Lulworth skipper (Thymelicus acteon)

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Lulworth skipper
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Lulworth skipper fact file

Lulworth skipper description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumArthropoda
ClassInsecta
OrderLepidoptera
FamilyHesperiidae
GenusThymelicus (1)

The Lulworth skipper is one of our smallest butterflies (3). Males are orange-brown with light spots and a black band on the forewings. Females are darker in colour than males and do not have this dark band. The underside of both sexes is orange-brown with no markings or spots (1). The caterpillar reaches 2.4 centimetres in length, has a green body with a darker green, yellow-bordered line along the back and pale yellow lines along the sides (4).

Size
Wingspan: 2.5 - 2.8 cm (1)
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Lulworth skipper biology

The Lulworth skipper is single-brooded; adults fly between late June and late September, and eggs are laid in small groups in flower sheaths of tall patches of tor-grass. After hatching three weeks later, the larvae spin a cocoon in which to hibernate. They emerge the following spring and create tubes in which to live by spinning the leaf together. Pupation occurs amongst the clumps of tor-grass (4).

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Lulworth skipper range

Found in some areas of south and central Europe, Asia Minor and North Africa. In Britain the Lulworth skipper is largely restricted to coastal areas of south Dorset, centred on the village of Lulworth, colonies are also known from the Isle of Portland and west Dorset (3).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
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Lulworth skipper habitat

The Lulworth skipper inhabits sheltered or south-facing slopes in unimproved calcareous grasslands, such as chalk downland and coastal grasslands (3). Tall clumps of the sole foodplant tor-grass (Brachypodium pinnatum) are required (3).

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Lulworth skipper status

Protected in Britain with respect to sale only under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (2).

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Lulworth skipper threats

The Lulworth skipper was once found in Devon. Apart from the loss of the species in this area, its range has stayed relatively stable. Its habitats in Britain have not been destroyed, largely because the slopes on which the species occurs are too steep to be ploughed or occur in military training areas. During the twentieth century, the levels of grazing in areas inhabited by this skipper have decreased; the foodplant has been able to grow to the taller heights that suit this species as a result. Small declines in the Lulworth skipper have occurred in some areas due to an increase in grazing (2).

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Lulworth skipper conservation

Scrub removal has benefited the species in some localities, and many sites are ungrazed (2). However, research has indicated that some grazing may actually benefit this butterfly, as nectar-source flowers will be encouraged, but grazing in spring and summer when the larvae tend to be located at high points on vegetation is detrimental. Maintaining the longer sward needed by this species conflicts with conservation management for other butterfly species such as the Adonis blue butterfly (Lysandra bellargus); conservation measures will therefore need to manage different parts of an area for different species, with the Lulworth skipper becoming a priority in the existing key areas (3).

There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

For more information on the Lulworth skipper see:

  • Asher, J., Warren, M., Fox, R., Harding, P., Jeffcoate, G., and Jeffcoate, S. (2001) The Millennium Atlas of Butterflies in Britain and Ireland. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

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Authentication

Information authenticated by Butterfly Conservation:

http://www.butterfly-conservation.org/

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Glossary

Calcareous
Containing free calcium carbonate, chalky.
Hibernate
A winter survival strategy characteristic of some mammals in which an animal's metabolic rate slows down and a state of deep sleep is attained. Whilst hibernating, animals survive on stored reserves of fat that they have accumulated in summer. In insects, the correct term for hibernation is 'diapause', a temporary pause in development and growth. Any stage of the lifecycle (eggs, larvae, pupae or adults) may enter diapause, which is typically associated with winter.
Larvae
Stage in an animal's lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
Pupation
The process of becoming a pupa, the stage of an insect's development, when huge changes occur that reorganise the larval form into the adult form. In butterflies the pupa is also called a chrysalis.
Single-brooded
Also known as ‘univoltine’. Referring to an organism which has just one brood each year.
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References

  1. Still, J. (1996) Collins Wild Guide: Butterflies and moths of Britain and Europe. HarperCollins Publishers, London.
  2. Bourn, N.A.D. and Warren, M.S. (1997) Species Action Plan: Lulworth Skipper, Thymelicus Action. Butterfly Conservation, Wareham. Available at:
    http://www.butterfly-conservation.org/downloads.asp?PageId=73
  3. Asher, J., Warren, M., Fox, R., Harding, P., Jeffcoate, G. and and Jeffcoate, S. (2001) The Millennium Atlas of Butterflies in Britain and Ireland. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  4. Carter, D.J. and Hargreaves, B. (1986) A Field Guide to Caterpillars of Butterflies and Moths in Britain and Europe. Collins, London.
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Lulworth skipper  
Lulworth skipper

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