by Steven J. Cary
Skippers (Hesperiidae). About a third of our butterfly fauna, ~110 species, falls within this large and diverse family, which is sorted into six subfamilies: Eudaminae, Pyrrhopyginae, Pyrginae, Heteropterinae, Hesperiinae and Megathyminae. Skippers earned their name because of their rapid, skipping flight, which is powered by a heavily-muscled thorax. All skippers have antennal clubs that are distinctively bent, curved or hooked. Larvae silk leaves together for nests; larvae hibernate. Most subfamilies have distinct larval food preferences.
Neotropical Skippers (Hesperiidae: Eudaminae). The Eudaminae are a subfamily of skipper butterflies found largely in the Neotropics, but some have distributions that reach into temperate North America. As a group, the Eudaminae are distinctly different-behaving and different-looking insects compared to other skippers; several have long tails. Larvae eat legumes (Fabaceae). This group was traditionally placed as a tribe (Eudamini) within the subfamily Pyrginae, but recent molecular DNA evidence prompted its elevation to subfamily status and resulted in considerable taxonomic re-arrangement among member genera and species. The new arrangement per Pelham (2019) will be different from arrangements in other guidebooks. New Mexico has 16 species from this subfamily.
- Dorantes Longtail (Cecropterus dorantes)
- Desert Cloudywing (Cecropterus casica)
- Nevada Cloudywing (Cecropterus nevada)
- Dobra Cloudywing (Cecropterus dobra) n.s.
- Northern Cloudywing (Cecropterus pylades)
- Drusius Cloudywing (Cecropterus drusius)
- Brown Longtail (Spicauda procne)
- Long-tailed Skipper (Urbanus proteus)
- Golden-banded Skipper (Telegonus cellus)
- Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus)
- Huachuca Skipper (Epargyreus huachuca) n.s.
- White-striped Longtail (Chioides albofasciatus)
- Zilpa Longtail (Chioides zilpa)
- Arizona Skipper (Codatractus arizonensis)
- Short-tailed Skipper (Zestusa dorus)
- Hammock Skipper (Polygonus leo)
- Acacia Skipper (Cogia hippalus)
- Gold-Costa Skipper (Cogia caicus)
Cecropterus dorantes (Stoll) Dorantes Longtail (updated January 25, 2021)
This is one of a handful of long-tailed, subtropical skippers that wander into New Mexico from the south, but only occasionally. Wing fringes are checked. Forewing light spots are gold. The underside is banded brown and violet with irregular postmedian bands. Cecropterus dorantes occurs south to subtropical South America. The few New Mexico records are for Upper Sonoran Zone canyons in our southwest quadrant between 4400 and 6000′ elevation (counties: Hi,Ot,Si). In nearby southeast Arizona, Bailowitz and Brock (1991) reported seeing Dorantes Longtail larvae on Desmodium neomexicanum and Desmodium batocaulon, while Clitoria mariana was a suspected hostplant (all Fabaceae). Raymond VanBuskirk photographed an ovipositing female in the southern Peloncillo Mountains on August 9, 2020, documenting seasonal reproduction here, as well. New Mexico records span August 1 to October 21, indicating an association with the summer thunderstorm season. Look for adults perching and nectaring at flowers in riparian settings. Pelham (2019) removed this species from the genus Urbanus.
Cecropterus casica (Herrich-Schäffer) Desert Cloudywing (updated January 25, 2021)
The upperside pattern of white spots on a brown ground resembles other cloudywings, but the large white marginal patch on the VHW is reminiscent of Codatractus arizonensis. In combination, they are unique. This skipper ranges from Guerrero, Mexico, north to sosouthern Arizona, south Texas and southwest New Mexico (counties: Gr,Hi). It is found in Upper Sonoran Zone canyons, from 4500 to 6000′ elevation, but never in numbers. Various legumes (Fabaceae) serve as larval hosts. Bailowitz and Brock (1991) documented Desmodium cinerascens, D. batocaulon and Clitoria mariana as larval hosts in southeast Arizona. Although scarce in New Mexico, this skipper may breed here on occasion. Our few records are for the summer rainy season, July 4 to late September, but an additional spring generation occurs in southeast Arizona. Adults stop for nectar (e.g., honeysuckle) and mud as they patrol up and down riparian corridors. Pelham (2019) moved this species from the genus Achalarus.
Cecropterus nevada (Scudder) Nevada Cloudywing (updated December 8, 2020)
Description. Nevada Cloudywing is the first of a three-species complex whose members are difficult to differentiate, especially from the upperside alone. Compared to Northern Cloudywing, Nevada and Dobra are smaller, the pale tan/tawny ventral hindwing has densely-packed dark striations, and males lack a costal fold. Until we learn more about morphological differences, separating Nevada from Dobra is best accomplished with location data. Range and Habitat. Cecropterus nevada occupies western Cordillera from Idaho south to California and New Mexico. Here it inhabits Canadian Zone and Hudsonian Zone grasslands usually 7500 to 10,500′, but sometimes higher (counties: Be,Ci,Co,LA,Mo,RA,Sv,SJ,SM,SF,Ta). Life History. Larvae eat legumes (Fabaceae). Scott (1992) reported oviposition on Trifolium rusbyi and Vicia americana at Hopewell Lake, 9800′ (RA). Flight. Adults fly from April 21 to August 16, mainly in June and July. Males defend hilltop perches; both sexes come to nectar and water. Comments. This species complex recently underwent a DNA-driven taxonomic overhaul. First, its several members were moved from the genus Thorybes, which is now a subgenus. Second, regional populations previously classified as subspecies were promoted to species. Populations in northern New Mexico mountains, previously treated as Thorybes mexicana nevada, now belong to Cecropterus nevada. Those in southern New Mexico mountains, formerly Thorybes mexicana dobra, now belong to Cecropterus dobra.
Cecropterus dobra (Evans) Dobra Cloudywing (added January 25, 2021)
Description. Dobra Cloudywing is a look-alike sister species of Nevada Cloudywing. Compared to Northern Cloudywing, Nevada and Dobra are smaller, the pale tan/tawny ventral hindwing has dark striations, and males lack a costal fold. Separating Nevada from Dobra is challenging, too, but Dobra generally is larger with more prominent dorsal forewing white spots and paler hindwing fringes (per Bailowitz and Brock 1991). Range and Habitat. Apparently endemic to southern Arizona and southern New Mexico mountains, Cecropterus dobra inhabits Canadian Zone grasslands usually above 8,000′ elevation (counties: Ca,Gr,Li,Ot). Life History. Larvae eat legumes (Fabaceae). Bailowitz and Brock (1991) reported oviposition on Lathyrus arizonicus in northern Arizona. Use of other legumes is possible. Flight. Adults fly from April 21 to July 5, mainly in June. Both sexes go to nectar and water. Comments. Until we learn more about morphological differences between Nevada Cloudywing and Dobra Cloudywing, geographical location will be a good start. EVen then, it may take some work to get a grip on the northern boundary of Dobra and the southern boundary of Nevada.
Cecropterus pylades (Scudder) Northern Cloudywing
Description. Northern Cloudywing is a medium-sized, gray-brown skipper. The white spotting above is normal for the genus and not diagnostic for any species. The ventral hindwing pattern differs from that of Cecropterus mexicana. Males have a costal fold. Range and Habitat. Flexible larval host requirements allow this skipper to breed successfully from Upper Sonoran Zone canyons (3500′) up to Canadian Zone meadows (9200′). It occurs from Oaxaca, Mexico, across most of the US and including most of New Mexico (all counties but Cu,DB,Gu,Le,Qu,Ro,Va). Life History. Larvae eat legumes (Fabaceae). Lathyrus leucanthus is used in Colorado (Scott 1992). Cologania angustifolia and Desmodium batocaulon are used in southeast (Bailowitz and Brock 1991). Flight. Northern Cloudywing is univoltine in north-central New Mexico mountains, peaking in June. It is at least bivoltine in southern New Mexico, where records span April 11 to September 15, peaking in May and August. Adults fly in topographically low areas and perch with wings partly open, whether feeding at flowers or wet sand. Comments. Individuals with whitish scaling in the ventral hindwing marginal area are somewhat regular in southern New Mexico. These can be assigned to subspecies Cecropterus pylades albosuffusa H. A. Freeman.
Cecropterus drusius (W. H. Edwards) Drusius Cloudywing (updated February 22, 2021)
The white fringe on the hindwing is the main feature by which to distinguish Drusius from our other cloudywings. In addition, the forewing is more pointed and the dorsal forewing white spots are reduced. This skipper is resident from Guerrero, Mexico, north into southern Arizona and west Texas; it appears to stray rarely to southwest New Mexico (counties: Hi). Look for it in Upper Sonoran Zone canyons, open oak woodlands and grasslands. In southeast Arizona, Bailowitz and Brock (1991) reported larvae feeding on Cologania angustifolia (Fabaceae). Other legumes are also likely hosts. Little is known about this insect’s life cycle or occurrence in New Mexico. Our single record, dated August 24, suggests an occasional, weak influx coinciding with the summer rains.
Spicauda procne (Plötz) Brown Longtail (updated January 26, 2021)
The Brown Longtail is easily separated from Long-tailed Skipper and Dorantes Longtail by its unchecked tan fringes and (in males) the lack of white spots on the forewing upperside. Some females have a narrow white postmedian band on the forewing, causing them to be mistaken at times for Spicauda teleus (Hübner). It also can be confused with Spicauda simplicius (Stoll), a rare stray to southeast Arizona. In some cases, genitalic examination may be needed to confirm identification. All are rare in New Mexico. Unlike fellow Eudamiines, larvae of this species apparently eat grasses (Poaceae)! For example, Jim Brock (1993, pers. comm.) observed oviposition on Cynodon dactylon in southeast Arizona. There is no evidence of reproduction in our area and its occurrence her is too infrequent to support breeding. Our solitary report is from Cottonwood Canyon, Guadalupe Mountains (county: Hi), 23 September 1990, by Kilian Roever. Pelham (2019) moved this species from the genus Urbanus.
Urbanus proteus (Linnaeus) Long-Tailed Skipper (updated December 9, 2020)
Several subtropical skippers have long hindwing tails, but only Urbanus proteus has blue-green scaling above. Forewing light spots are whitish. Ventral postmedian bands are smooth and straight. This species lives along the west and east coasts of Mexico, extending north along the Gulf Coast of southeastern US as far as South Carolina. Strays wander inland occasionally, but only rarely to southwest New Mexico (county: Hi). Legumes (Fabaceae) are larval hosts. One larva was found on Desmodium batocaulon in southeast Arizona (Bailowitz and Brock 1991). This butterfly can be a true migrant in the eastern US, exhibiting gradual northward movements in spring and summer, and a southward flight in fall (Scott 1986). Our reports, for September 23 and October 2, represent accidental occurrences.
Telegonus cellus (Boisduval & Le Conte) Golden Banded-Skipper
Description. The common name describes the most prominent feature of this skipper: a diagonal gold band traversing the forewing. Wing fringes are checked. Ventral surfaces are mottled and camouflaged. Range and Habitat. In New Mexico this beautiful skipper resides in Upper Sonoran and Transition Zone canyons (5500 to 8500′) in our southwest corner (counties: Ca,Gr,Hi,Si). It also is found south well into Mexico and in the southeastern US. Life History. Scott (1986) reported larval hosts in our area to be legumes (Fabaceae) such as Phaseolus wrightii, P. grayanus, Clitoria mariana and Vigna species. Brock (1993) reported that larvae eat Desmodium batocaulon. Bailowitz and Brock (1991) reported use of Robinia neomexicana and suggested the possible use of Phaseolus ritensis (all Fabaceae) in southeast Arizona. Pupae overwinter. Flight. Golden Banded-Skippers have one annual generation that flies here between May 27 and September 5, primarily July and August. Males perch on shrubs along creeks and patrol up and down drainage corridors in search of females. Adults take nectar and electrolytes at streamsides. Comments. Kansas Professor F. H. Snow made the first New Mexico observation of Telegonus cellus along Walnut Creek, 12 miles north of Silver City (Gr) in August 1884. Pelham (2019) moved this species from the genus Autochton.
Epargyreus clarus (Cramer) Silver-Spotted Skipper (updated January 26, 2021)
Description. Large for a skipper, Silver-spotteds (and the next species) may be our most recognizable skipper. The hindwing underside sports a bright silver-white blob. The forewing shows a bold gold band above and below. Range and Habitat. Epargyreus clarus occupies most of the US, shunning only arid areas. It is a routine species in our northern mountains, preferring Transition and Canadian Zone canyons, 6500 to 9200′ elevation (counties: Be,Co,LA,Mo,RA,Sv,SM,SF,Ta,To,Un). Life History. Larvae eat leaves of woody legumes (Fabaceae). The principal host in our area appears to be New Mexico locust (Robinia neomexicana), a native shrub or small tree which colonizes disturbed areas. Others may include Robinia pseudoacacia and Glyccirhyza lepidota in the Rockies (Scott 1992). Flight. Males perch on protruding branches from which they defend territories in riparian corridors. Peak flight is in June, but records span April 19 to August 20, suggesting one extended or two overlapping broods each summer. Adults nectar at beebalm (Monarda) and thistle (Cirsium). Pupae overwinter. Comments. Individuals from southern New Mexico are the next species, Epargyreus huachuca Dixon.
Epargyreus huachuca (Dixon) Huachuca Skipper (updated December 6, 2020)
Description. Huachuca Skipper is the spitting image of Silver-spotted Skipper, with only minor differences. In particular, the posterior spot of the forewing gold band is displaced toward the wing margin, leaving it separated from the rest of the gold band. Range and Habitat. While Epargyreus clarus occupies most of the non-arid eastern and northern US, Epargyreus huachuca replaces it in the Sky Islands of the far southwestern US. They are routine in southern New Mexico’s montane woodlands where they prefer Transition and Canadian Zone canyons with hostplants, 7500 to 9500′ elevation (counties: Ca,DA,Gr,Hi,Li,Ot,Si,So). Life History. Larvae eat leaves of woody legumes (Fabaceae). The principal host in our area appears to be New Mexico locust (Robinia neomexicana), but Robinia pseudoacacia and Glyccirhyza lepidota also may be used. Flight. Males patrol and defend territories in riparian corridors. Peak flight is in June, but records are known from April 29 to August 22, suggesting one very extended or two overlapping broods each summer. Adults nectar at flowers and balance electrolytes at damp soil. Pupae overwinter. Comments. Even if you can’t get a good look at the wing characters, your location usually will tell you which you are seeing, but there is a caveat: Toliver et al. commented that clarus and huachuca are not well differentiated in NM, suggesting that central New Mexico mountains (counties: Be,Ca,Gr,SM,SF) may host both species. This suggests a nice field project in those areas to evaluate if they co-occur in some areas or if some individuals show intermediate characters.
Chioides albofasciatus (Hewitson) White-Striped Longtail
White-striped Longtail is distinguished by – can you guess? – a bold white stripe and a tail as long as the rest of the hindwing. This beauty lives in South America, Mexico and the Caribbean islands. Individuals occasionally stray into southern Arizona, southern Texas and southern New Mexico (counties: Hi,Lu), where it is a very memorable find. Legumes (Fabaceae) are larval hosts in the breeding range. Galactia wrightii (Fabaceae) was shown to be a host in southeast Arizona (Brock, pers. com.). Males patrol stream corridors looking for mates while nectaring at seepwillow (Baccharis species). Our few New Mexico records fall between August 1 and October 13, during and after the monsoon season. Until recently (see Opler and Warren 2002), Chioides albofasciatus was considered to be a subspecies of Chioides catillus (Cramer).
Chioides zilpa (Butler) Zilpa Longtail
Much like White-striped Longtail in size and shape, Zilpa has a unique pattern of olive and tan with patches of white and brown on the hindwing underneath. Also note the dark triangle near the ventral forewing apex. This skipper lives from Ecuador north to Mexico and into south Texas. It rarely strays to southern Arizona, southern New Mexico and even as far as Kansas. Larvae eat leguminous vines (Fabaceae), but reproduction is unlikely in New Mexico. Zilpa is least improbable here in late summer monsoons. Our single record was videotaped on 26 August 2001 at Percha Dam State Park (Si) by Christopher Rustay, Douglas Emkalns and Bruce Neville. Our individuals belong to subspecies Chioides zilpa namba Evans. There’s no reason you need to know that, but it sure is fun to say aloud.
Codatractus arizonensis (Skinner) Arizona Skipper (updated December 9, 2020)
Description. About the same size as Epargyreus clarus, the Arizona Skipper has a prominent, hoary whitish patch along the margin of the hindwing below. Range and Habitat. The distribution of this Mexican species reaches northward into southwest Texas, southern Arizona, and even southwest New Mexico (counties: Hi,Lu). Life History. Bailowitz and Brock (1991) reported oviposition and larvae on Eysenhardtia orthocarpa (Fabaceae) in southeast Arizona, so it breeds seasonally there. There are two or more broods every year in its breeding range to the south. The recent photo (below) of a gravid female in southern Hidalgo County is evidence that it reproduces here, or least places eggs here, too. Flight. Males defend territories in Upper Sonoran Zone riparian corridors and arroyos. Comments. Except for a single report for late April representing a sparse local spring flight, our remaining New Mexico sightings fall between July 30 and August 6. Codatractus arizonensisis is one of the many attractive, if infrequent, subtropical strays that tantalize butterfly chasers in our Bootheel riparian areas during the monsoon season.
Zestusa dorus (W. H. Edwards) Short-Tailed Skipper
Description. For Short-tailed Skipper, the cluster of three white post-median spots on the hindwing above is a diagnostic feature. Also note the pronounced lobe at back of the hindwing. A uniquely intricate ventral pattern is accented by pale blue tints. Range and Habitat. Zestusa dorus occurs from the Sierra Madre of Mexico north into Arizona, New Mexico and southernmost Colorado. It is a denizen of scruffy, oak-covered hillsides and canyons in habitats ranging from Upper Sonoran to Transition Zones (counties: Be,Ca,Co,Gr,Hi,Li,Lu,MK,Mo,Ot,RA,Sv,SJ,SM,SF,Si,So,Ta,To,Un,Va) generally 6200 to 8500′ elevation. Life History. Oaks (Fagaceae) serve as larval hosts for this butterfly. Quercus arizonica and Quercus emoryi are confirmed. Quercus gambelii, Quercus grisea and Quercus undulata are inferred to be hosts based on adult association. Winter is passed as pupae, then adults emerge with the first warm spring weather. Flight. This insect is widespread, but not often seen, perhaps because of its early flight. Look for it between March 22 and May 31: mostly April in southern New Mexico and a month later farther north. Adults feed at moist earth and tree sap; evidence of nectar feeding is scant (e.g., Prunus spp.). Males perch on twigs and branches of oaks when they are still in bud. Comments. A rare summer generation is reported in southeast Arizona (Bailowitz and Brock 1991), but as yet there is no evidence of this in New Mexico. Female Zestua dorus are rarely encountered in nature.
Polygonus leo (Gmelin) Hammock Skipper
This big skipper has a characteristic pattern of white spots on the forewing above, a violet tinge to the hindwing below, and a prominent lobe at the back of the hindwing. Hammock Skippers occasionally wander from Mexico into New Mexico, where they loiter in riparian areas with nectar and water along our southern border (counties: Ca,Ed,Hi,Ot,Si,To). Legumes (Fabaceae) are likely hosts in Mexico, where Hammock Skipper has two or more broods per year. Late summer vagrants to New Mexico have been seen from July 31 to November 2. Our earliest record is a specimen in the Allyn Museum of Entomology from Willard (To), 2 June 1913. It probably came from a traveler passing through on the AT&SF Railroad, around which Willard was founded in 1902.
Cogia hippalus (W. H. Edwards) Acacia Skipper (updated December 9, 2020)
Description. Acacia Skippers resemble other medium size, white-edged Eudamiines in southern New Mexico. Distinguish them by larger dorsal forewing white spots, a creamy white hindwing fringe, banded antennal shafts, hindwing shape and ventral hindwing markings. Range and Habitat. This species occurs from South America to Mexico. It barely reaches into the US in southern Arizona, west Texas and southern New Mexico (counties: DA,Ed,Gr,Hi,Lu,Si). In New Mexico it is resident in canyons and drainages in Upper Sonoran Zone grasslands and open scrublands, where the larval host grows. Life History. The only reported larval host for our region is the thorny shrub, Whiteball Acacia (Acacia angustissima; Fabaceae). Flight. Cogia hippalus has two generations in New Mexico; records span May 6 to September 22, with peak flight from July to August. Adults patrol arroyos and canyon bottoms, nectaring and balancing electrolytes at moist earth. Comments. Here at the northern edge of its range, the Acacia Skipper is seen inconsistently, though it does seem to be getting more predictable in some areas. Credit Mike Toliver with the first New Mexico report, in Clanton Draw, Peloncillo Mountains (Hi) on 5 July 1975.
Cogia caicus (Herrich-Schäffer) Gold-Costa Skipper (updated January 27, 2021)
Description. Gold-costa Skipper resembles Acacia Skipper, but is usually smaller, with darker ventral hindwing colors and white scaling near the ventral hindwing margin. The leading edge of the forewing is gold, which sounds obvious, but it is pencil-thin and you really have to be looking for it. Range and Habitat. This species is somewhat regular in our SW quadrant (counties: Ca,Ed,Gr,Hi,Lu,Si). Look for it in foothill canyons of desert mountains, from 5000 to 6700′. It ranges south to Central America. Life History. Whiteball acacia (Acacia angustissima, Fabaceae) is a reported larval hostplant in southeast Arizona. Flight. In New Mexico there are two generations per year. The spring generation flies from about April 8 to May 25; the summer brood flies from about July 19 to September 6. Males establish and defend territories by perching on rocks in canyon bottoms, then patrolling up- and down-canyon. “It shows a decided predilection for large rocks in either dry or wet streambeds, where its low, exceptionally bouncy flight readily identifies it” (Zimmerman 2001). Adults often nectar at thistles. Comments. Our populations are assigned to subspecies Cogia caicus moschus (W. H. Edwards).