Common Branded Skipper (Hesperia comma) (Linnaeus, 1758)

Diagnosis: This skipper is highly variable, both between subspecies and individually. The upperside is orange brown blending gradually into dark brown along the wing margin. The underside is various shades of brown with at least a small amount of green shading and often with a peppery olive-green appearance. The spot band on the hindwing below is white and highly contrasting, with the spots sometimes partially fused into an irregular median band. Females are dark brown above with variable orange spots and blotches. Wingspan: 22 to 30 mm, with females averaging larger than males.

Subspecies: The treatment of Hesperia colorado and Hesperia assiniboia as valid species results in there being five subspecies of comma in North America and others, including the nominate subspecies, in the Old World. The three subspecies in Canada are subspecies laurentina, from the northern Great Lakes region and most of eastern Canada, which has the underside olive brown and the white spots relatively small and separated; subspecies manitoba, found throughout western Canada, which is darker grey-green on the underside, with the white spots larger and tending to fuse together; and subspecies borealis, which occurs in Labrador and northern Quebec north of the range of laurentina and is essentially like manitoba.

Range: This species occurs across Eurasia and northwestern Africa, and in North America from coast to coast in boreal and subalpine habitats from treeline south to Colorado. It is absent from southern Ontario south of Algonquin Provincial Park and from the Prairies.

Specimen collection data

Description of this image follows.
Common Branded Skipper (Hesperia comma laurentina). Cape Breton Highlands, NS. J.D. Lafontaine

Similar Species: The other ten Hesperia species can usually be eliminated by range and habitat, since comma occurs north of other similar species or at higher elevations. Specific differences are discussed under the other species.

Early Stages: The larva is olive green with a dark head. It feeds on various grasses including bluegrass (Poa spp.), fescue (Festuca spp.), and bluestem (Andropogon spp.) (MacNeill, 1964).

Abundance: Hesperia comma is fairly common in the right habitat, but is often quite local.

Flight Season: It usually flies from late June to mid-August in the west (subspecies manitoba) and from late July to early September in the east (subspecies laurentina); subspecies borealis flies in July.

Habits: This skipper is most commonly found in open grassy roadsides and clearings in Boreal Zone habitats.

Remarks: Bird et al. (1995) suggested that Hesperia assiniboia looks and behaves like a distinct species from Hesperia comma in Alberta. We concur with their opinion and extend it also to Hesperia colorado. These two former subspecies of comma fly with it at some localities and are treated as valid species.

© 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.