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A Little Bit More
Skippers are especially common in many areas that have flowers across North America. On almost any warm, sunny day in spring and summer, you can see many of these active butterflies zipping around from flower to flower seeking nectar. If you’re quiet and approach slowly, you can often watch them use their long mouthpart probe flowers for nectar.
skipper with typical "jet plane" wings
Almost everyone knows what a butterfly looks like and this is why seeing skippers in the field can be a bit confusing. Skippers do look like a cross between a moth and a butterfly and this is what may throw you off on identification. Scientists have assigned the butterflies into two groups: the true butterflies and the skipper butterflies to distinguish the two groups. Probably the most obvious distinguishing characteristic of skippers is their “jet plane” look most species have when they alight. The interesting way skippers hold their wings at rest is often the easiest way to distinguish the skipper butterflies from the true butterflies.
Science – Skipper Galore
Objectives: See skippers in their natural environment
Materials: Access to an area with flowering plants
This activity is appropriate during spring and summer and is a nice way to get students out into the field looking for what’s there. Since skippers are so common and widespread (remember, there are at least 250 different kinds all across North America), ask students to find an area near their home or school (park, roadside, yard, flower bed) that has flowers in bloom where they can look for skippers.
The time of day and weather can make a big difference so they’ll want to make their observations on a warm, sunny day, preferably not a cool, or windy, or rainy one. Early morning is often too cool and the skippers won’t be active but as the day warms, more and more should be visiting flowers.
Identifying skippers to species is difficult so students can just look for skippers in general and not worry what kinds they might be seeing. If you/they are interested in specific kinds and want to identify them to species, a field guide is essential. In this case, be sure to check out only those kinds that live in your area and ignore any that do not – there are just too many variations, so range maps easily cull out those not found where you live.
If you wish, you can even have students count the different skippers they encounter and compare that to the number of true butterflies they see. No matter how you do it, I think you’ll find that a bit of time looking for skippers among the flowers will be enjoyable and educational for all involved.
Some questions you may want to pursue:
1. If you saw both skippers and butterflies, did you notice any differences in their behavior?
2. If you saw both skippers and butterflies, did you notice that one group was more colorful than another?
3. Could you see what the skippers were doing when they landed on flowers?
4. Did the skippers tend to go to the same kind of flower over and over or did they visit random kinds of flowers?
alight: descend from the air and settle
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