Are Essex Skippers really starting to decline in Dorset?

Bill Shreeves, Records Officer, writes:

Since the Dorset Butterfly Atlas of 1985-89 ,when the first Essex Skipper was recorded in Dorset, the numbers of kilometre squares where they have been seen steadily increased for each 5-year atlas up to 131 in 2005-09. However, so far, for the new 2010-14 atlas only 72 kms have been recorded. We need to know whether this is a real decline or whether it is a falling off in recording.

Essex skipper

Essex Skipper, showing black tips to antennae. Photo: Gordon Cryer

It would be understandable if the latter were the case as Essex Skippers are very similar to Small Skippers & it takes some patience to look for the little black blobs on the ends of the antennae, shown in this recent photo of a freshly emerged Essex in Motcombe Meadows local reserve by Gordon Cryer.

Most of the sightings of Essex Skippers have occurred in North & East Dorset but they have arrived in Purbeck & Portland. Indeed proof has just come from this photo of the caterpillar swept out of grasses west of the Pulpit Inn by Ken Dolbear. Fortunately the caterpillar’s brown & white head stripes make it much easier to distinguish from the Small Skipper than the actual butterfly!

Essex skipper caterpillar

Essex Skipper caterpillar. Photo: Ken Dolbear

We would be very grateful to receive records of Essex Skipper from anywhere in Dorset but especially from the West where very few have been seen so far.

However please be sure that you have noticed the very clear black tips to the antennae. These tips are very abrupt and not gradually graded from the rest of the antenna. They look as if they have been pressed into a black ink pad or a little like the black ends of the old safety matches. They are most easily seen from the side or from slightly below the front of the butterfly. If these have not been observed the identification cannot be certain.

When you send in records to our website please be sure to add comments in the notes so that we can be re-assured that the identification is reliable. Essex Skippers are out now until the end of August and should be searched for on road verges or any grassland which has been allowed to grow fairly tall.

2 thoughts on “Are Essex Skippers really starting to decline in Dorset?

  1. Hamish Murray

    Several Essex Skippers today on DWT Reserve at Haldon Hill – photographs on Twitter later

    1. winfrithwebsite

      That’s great to know – thanks. Will you be recording them somewhere that enables us to pick up the records for our database? We recommend our online recording page, but appreciate you may be plugged into other systems.
      Lyn – Website Editor


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