Skipper – Small or Essex?

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This Skipper butterfly was posing obligingly on a thistle in Tatton Park last week, but what with grandchildren staying, I’ve only now got around to having a close look at the quick photo I took of it en route to Home Farm for a hands-on visit for the children.

My first thought was “Small Skipper”, but then I looked it up in the excellent Butterflies of Britain & Ireland by Jeremy Thomas and Richard Lewington and was immediately torn between it being a Small Skipper or an Essex Skipper. Oh they are so similar!

The distribution of the Small Skipper covers much of the UK; the Essex Skipper is more confined to the south and east…BUT… it’s described as “expanding west and north”, so it could be from Essex, maybe visiting its cousins in Cheshire?!

The crunch comes with the description for making an ID of this butterfly: “…examine the curved tips of the anntennae in order to see the colour of their undersurfaces.This is best done in early evening….creep up on them on all fours until you are head-on and can look upwards at the anntennae….the Small Skipper has antennae that are dull orange or brown underneath the tips, whereas those of the Essex Skipper are glossy black….”

Having examined the ilustrations in the book very carefully, I’m taking a punt on it being a Small Skipper. There’s no way I could home in any futher on an enlargement to see more antennae detail, but I’ve learned something new about this butterfly – and – I was amused to read “…many experienced lepidopterists are unable to distinguish between Essex and Small Skippers.”!

That’s music to the ears of this relative novice.

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