In the big, beautiful butterfly world, the Fiery Skipper stands out as the most common urban butterfly in California.
It may not be as showy as the Monarch, the Gulf Fritilliary and the Painted Lady, but the Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus) holds its own.
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, describes it as "California's most urban butterfly, almost limited to places where people mow lawns. Its range extends to Argentina and Chile and it belongs to a large genus which is otherwise entirely Andean."
"Here in California, the oldest Bay Area record is only from 1937," he writes on his butterfly website. "At any rate, it is multiple-brooded, and appears to experience heavy winter-kill in most places; scarce early in the season, it spreads out from local places where it survived, gradually reoccupying most of its range by midsummer and achieving maximum abundance in September and October."
It breeds mostly on Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon), Shapiro says.
We've seen the adults nectaring on sedum, lantana, zinnias and Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia) at the half-acre bee friendly garden, the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis. It's like their favorite restaurant where they can order nectar (take-out, please!) from sedum, zinnias, catmint and those glorious Mexican sunflowers.
Since the Fiery Skippers don't take kindly to cold winters, let's enjoy them while we can.
The skipper wasn't skipping.
In fact, it wasn't doing much of anything.
The fiery skipper butterfly (Hylephila phyleus), tangled in a spider web, struggled furiously to free itself.
Not going to happen. The sticky substance stuck to her like super glue.
It's a scene you don't often see. This time, however, before the resident spider on the catmint could grab its prey, I released the skipper.
Sorry, spider. Gotta protect the pollinators.
Skippers and sedum. Sedum and skippers.
A perfect match. The flower, sedum (family Crassulaceae), and the fiery skipper butterfly (Hylephila phyleus, family Hesperlidae) make a stunning autumn photo.
When late afternoon sun strikes its fighter-jet wings, it glows brilliantly. Move closer and you'll see the skipper sipping nectaring. Move a little more closer and...it's gone.
It does keeps its distance.
Butterfly expert Art Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at UC Davis, provides comprehensive information on fiery skippers and other butterflies on his website, Art's Butterfly World.
He calls the fiery skipper "California's most urban butterfly, almost limited to places where people mow lawns. Its range extends to Argentina and Chile and it belongs to a large genus which is otherwise entirely Andean. Its North American range may be quite recent. Here in California, the oldest Bay Area record is only from 1937."
Only 1937? A newcomer, but what a beauty.
Look for the fiery skipper (Hylephila phyleus) in your garden. It's likely sharing your catmint, lavender and sage with honey bees and other pollinators.
It's the only one holding a "fighter-jet" position.
Says UC Davis butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro: "The folded-wing skippers have a characteristic posture when they land: the forewings are held at a 45-degree angle to the rest of the body while the hindwing is held open and flat. This gives them a 'fighter-jet' like appearance."
These skippers are largely orange and tawny, he says, "and many have whitish chevrons on the ventral hindwing, although some genera are dark brown."
Skippers are a worldwide family of about 3500 species that appear to be "sister" to the rest of the "true butterflies," Shapiro says. The clubs on the tips of the antennae are usually hooked. In California, skippers fall into two or three subfamilies: the spread-wing skippers (Pyrginae), the folded-wing skippers (Hesperiinae), and the Heteropterinae.
His excellent Web site offers more information on fiery skippers and other butterflies.
Well, it's not really a Halloween butterfly, but it is orange.
The Fiery Skipper (Hylephila phyleus) visits us more than the politicians do at Election Time. Last Sunday we spotted four Skippers in our backyard. Only two politicians skipped to our front door.
The Fierry Skipper nectars our sage, adding a decidedly orange glow to the purple flowers.
UC Davis butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro says this one (below) is a male. It's California's "most urban" butterfly, he says, adding that it's almost limited to places where people mow lawns.
Its range extends to Argentina and Chile. The oldest Bay Area record of the Fiery Skipper dates back to 1937.
Its caterpillar hosts include Bermuda grass, crabgrass, St. Augustine grass and other grasses. Well, that counts us out. We have none of those, just a bee friendly garden. No lawn. No grass. No weeds. Just a big burst of flowers.
And Fiery Skippers.