Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus centaureae) (Rambur, 1840)

Diagnosis: This small skipper (wingspan: 22 to 28 mm) is brownish black, with many irregular white patches, more diffuse on the hindwings, and black and white fringes on both wings. The underside is checkered in white and greyish brown.

Subspecies: There are three North American subspecies, and others, including the nominate subspecies, in the Old World. Subspecies wyandot (W.H. Edwards) flies in the northeastern U.S., but apparently does not reach Canada (some workers now treat wyandot as a distinct species). Subspecies freija, described from Labrador, is found in most of the Canadian range from Labrador to Yukon, and subspecies loki flies in the Rocky Mountains from Colorado to British Columbia.

Range: The Grizzled Skipper is found in Scandinavia and eastward across much of arctic Eurasia. In Canada, it ranges from the Labrador coast to Vancouver Island, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories. It is absent from the Maritime Provinces, Quebec south of about 50° north, Ontario south of Chapleau, and the Prairie Provinces south of the boreal forest. There are two isolated colonies on the Gaspé Peninsula, above 1000 metres on Mont-Albert and Mont-Jacques-Cartier.

Similar Species: The Common Checkered Skipper (P. communis) has a more or less regular row of six white submarginal spots, and its white areas are more extensive than in P. centaureae. The Two-banded Checkered Skipper and Small Checkered Skipper (P. ruralis and P. scriptura) are darker, with white spots more widely spaced on a black background. [compare images]

Early Stages: The larvae are apparently undescribed in North America. Foodplants are reported to be cinquefoil (Potentilla spp.) in the Rocky Mountains and Cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus) in northern Canada and Eurasia.

Abundance: This can be a fairly common species.

Flight Season: It is on the wing from mid-May to mid-July in the southern part of the range, late June to August farther north. From Labrador to Manitoba, in the northern part of its range, it appears to have a two-year life cycle; in many places it is common in odd years and rare or absent in even years. Farther south there is one generation each year.

Habits: Pyrgus centaureae is reported from a wide variety of habitats over its wide range, from tundra on Most-Albert, bogs in northern Quebec, meadows and valley bottoms in the Rockies, and forest clearings, taiga, and scrubby willow thickets in northern Manitoba.

Remarks: When RAL saw centaureae for the first time, in a bog northeast of Chibougamau, Quebec, he mistook it for a small, light grey noctuid moth. It was chased for more than a hundred metres and was only recognized as a butterfly when it was in the net. Individual wing strokes could not be seen at all; the whole form appeared blurred, although the flight was not very fast. Even after seeing several more specimens, the original impression did not change.

© 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.