Broad-winged Skipper (Poanes viator) (W.H. Edwards, 1865)

Diagnosis: Males are bright orange with wide black borders on both wings covering about half the wings. They have no stigma, but there are two large black patches in that area. Females are paler orange and the black is even more extensive. The orange hindwing patch in the female fades to straw-coloured towards the rear of the wing, and light forewing areas in females are straw or cream in colour. In both sexes, the hindwing underside is dull brown. There is a long tawny streak in the centre and two shorter pale streaks on the anal side and one on the costal side. Wingspan: 27 to 34 mm.

Subspecies: There are two, but only the nominate subspecies occurs in Canada.

Range:Poanes viator flies in a broad area of the northern U.S. from the east coast to North Dakota. In Canada it is found throughout southern Ontario, north to Renfrew County, and in southwestern Quebec northeast as far as Sorel. There are isolated records from Lake of the Woods and Keewatin in northwest Ontario, and from Whiteshell Provincial Park in southeastern Manitoba.

Specimen collection data

Similar Species: The combination of rounded wings and wing pattern help distinguish it from any other sedge-area skippers with which it might fly.

Early Stages: In Canada viator feeds only on broadleafed sedges, Carex lacustris and C. rostrata. The larvae are apparently undescribed, though they are reported to live between a leaf and the stem without much silk. Their hibernation sites are unknown. Most of the sedge patches grow in shallow water year round and many are totally submerged in late winter and spring; some moth larvae (e.g., Noctuidae: Bellura spp.) are known to be able to swim in a snake-like fashion to shore and possibly viator larvae do this as well.

Abundance: This species is extremely local, but can be abundant within the colonies.

Flight Season: The Broad-winged Skipper flies from late June to mid-August, but is commonest in mid-July. There is one generation per year in Canada, more in the U.S.

Habits: Like massasoit, this species is restricted to stands of sedges, in this case broad-leafed sedges, usually in long, narrow roadside sedge patches. It is rarely possible to see or catch them without getting your feet wet, although they are occasionally seen nectaring on milkweed or Cow Vetch growing in the sedge patches or around the edge. They have a very weak flight, usually down in among the sedges, almost never flying above the plants, and they usually refuse to be chased out of the sedges. In 1980, at a location in eastern Ontario, a colony of viator was discovered directly adjacent to one of massasoit. Both sedge patches occupied the same wet road margin and were in contact at one point. Several hours of observation on two occasions failed to show either species crossing the boundary into the wrong sedge patch.

Remarks: This restriction of habitat, and the habit of flying below the tops of the sedges, is probably responsible for the fact that viator was unknown in the Ottawa area until 1977, despite the intensive collecting that has occurred around Ottawa for more than a century. Since the recognition of the habitat, more than 60 colonies have been discovered in the Ottawa area.

© 2002. This material is reproduced with permission from The Butterflies of Canada by Ross A. Layberry, Peter W. Hall, and J. Donald Lafontaine. University of Toronto Press; 1998. Specimen photos courtesy of John T. Fowler.