Essex Skipper. Photo: Mark Pike

Between 1970 and 1984, despite hundreds of sites being examined, the Essex Skipper was confined to only 26 kilometre squares out of a total of over 2,900. By 2010-14 it had expanded to 276 squares and had spread first into North and East Dorset, later into South Dorset and finally only the far west of Dorset remained without records. The mechanism for its speedy expansion from Essex and the South East to Dorset is thought to have been hastened by the passage of hay lorries from East Anglia which unintentionally spread the eggs along the grass verges of the main roads.

The difficulty of telling the Essex apart from the Small Skipper means that it is undoubtedly under recorded in some areas.

Where to see

Habitat: Open/rough ground, clearings and roadside verges.

Caterpillar foodplants: Cocksfoot grass, Creeping Soft Grass

Best places: Widely found, but try Stour Valley, Alners Gorse, Hatch Pond (Poole) or Bindon Hill.

Distribution map

Explore the Atlas to see historical distribution trends for this species.

When to see

Possibly out by the end of June. July is its main period. Possibly going into August.

Sightings by month (last 5 years)*:

Sightings this year*:

Browse the sightings archive.


Size: Small

The most reliable way to tell an Essex Skipper from a Small Skipper is by the black tips to its antennae: they must show a clear cut offs which are visible from the underside too. If the antennae are greyish, brown or patchy black, they are not Essex.

A less reliable feature is that with Essex Skippers the underside tips of the upper wings are usually orange like the rest of the wing. Small Skipper wing tips change to a muddy yellow which matches the colour of their hind wing underside.

The scent brand (the black slash) on the upper forewing of the male Essex Skipper is short, straight and parallel with the wing edge. The Small Skipper scent brand is long, thick, slightly curved and not parallel to the edge of the wing.

Photo gallery

Tip: Click thumbnails to view full-size images.

*Note: The charts shown on this page are drawn only from casual sightings submitted to this website. Records from this website will be added to a lot more data collected throughout the year and used to compile the five-yearly Butterfly Atlases for Dorset and the UK.

Find more Essex Skipper related content, including news and photos.