The ventral (lower) side of an adult Delaware skipper is pure orange, without markings; the fringe along the edge varies from orange to brown. The dorsal (top) side is similar in both males and females, with dark margins, black-lined veins, and a line at the end of the forewing cell. All markings in the female are wider, giving her a distinctive appearance. Females also have black at the base of the forewing. Males do not have a stigma (a black spot on the top of the forewing that produces pheromones to attract females).
As a grass skipper, this species commonly rests with the forewings held open in a V shape, while the hindwings are held out horizontally to the side. It may also have all four folded together so that only the bottom surfaces are visible.
Larvae are bluish white with black dots and a crescent-shaped bar at the rear. The head is white with black bands and lines.
Similar species: There are about 130–140 species of grass skippers in North America north of Mexico.
Wingspan: 1–1½ inches.
Habitat and Conservation
Found in a variety of open areas, particularly wet habitats, including prairies, fields, and residential areas.
Larvae feed on members of the grass family, including big bluestem and switchgrass, which are both common in native tallgrass prairies. The adults drink nectar from flowers, preferring those with pink or white petals. Among butterflies and skippers, the length of the proboscis (“tongue”) determines what kinds of flowers can be used. This species has a proboscis that is 1.5 times the length of the forewing, so it can extract nectar from deep floral tubes, such as those of trumpet creeper.
Adults fly from the end of May through September. Females lay eggs singly on the leaves of grasses, and the caterpillars create shelters of the leaves as they eat them.
Walt Whitman’s famous poetry book, “Leaves of Grass,” celebrates American freedom and democracy, using the multitudes of grasses in our prairies as a symbol for the greatness of our people. This common, humble skipper, dancing in the meadows, would have been a great addition to his imagery!
The caterpillars are herbivores that graze on grasses. The adults serve a role in pollination. All stages provide food for predators.