July : The Fiery Skipper Moth

To celebrate National Moth-Week, July 21-26th, we bring you July’s pollinator: the Fiery Skipper moth (Hylephila phyleus).This is a common species belonging to the skipper family (Hesperiidae) found across much of North and South America. Known for its rapid, darting flight pattern (skipping) and fiery orange wings adorned with black spots, this moth is a familiar sight in gardens, meadows, and grassy fields where its larval host plants thrive.

One of the notable aspects of the fiery skipper moth is its close association with its host plants for laying eggs, particularly those in the grass family (Poaceae). These include a variety of grass species such as Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon), St. Augustine grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum), and various other weedy grasses found in open habitats. The female fiery skipper moth carefully selects suitable grasses on which to lay her eggs, typically choosing healthy, tender shoots that provide ample nutrition for the developing larvae.

In contrast to the larval host plants, the adults seek out flowers that have abundant sources of nectar. The moth is particularly attracted to a diverse array of host flowers. Common favorites include members of the aster family (Asteraceae), such as asters, sunflowers, and daisies. During the warmer months when asters are in bloom, you can often find fiery skipper moths fluttering around these flowers, sipping nectar with their proboscis. This behavior not only provides them with nourishment but also serves an important ecological role as pollinators. As they move from flower to flower in search of nectar, they inadvertently transfer pollen, facilitating the reproduction of the aster plants and contributing to their genetic diversity.

The fiery skipper moth also serves as a valuable indicator species for the health of grassland habitats. Changes in land use, urbanization, and pesticide application can impact the availability of suitable host plants, potentially affecting populations of these vibrant and resilient moths. Understanding and conserving the habitats that support both the fiery skipper moth and its host plants are crucial steps in preserving the biodiversity and ecological balance of grassland ecosystems where this species thrives.  (Photo Credit: Margretha Ellis, 2011)

 

References

Barton, B. (2021). Hylephila phyleus (fiery skipper). Animal Diversity Web.  https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Hylephila_phyleus/

N.A. (2021). Fiery Skipper Hylephila phyleus (Drury, 1773) | Butterflies and Moths of North America. Www.butterfliesandmoths.org. https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Hylephila-phyleus

totty@uwm.edu. (2019, September 4). The Fiery Skipper. Field Station. https://uwm.edu/field-station/bug-of-the-week/the-fiery-skipper/

UF, IFAS. (n.d.). fiery skipper – Hylephila phyleus. Entnemdept.ufl.edu. https://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/BFLY/fiery_skipper.htm