Leonard's Skipper (Hesperia leonardus) (Harris, 1862)

Diagnosis: The nominate subspecies leonardus is bright reddish orange above, with wide black borders and heavy black markings. The underside in both sexes is orange red with a very well-marked contrasting white spot band. Subspecies pawnee has a much paler ground colour with the bold black areas replaced by smaller areas of diffuse grey. The underside is pale buff in colour with small paler medial spots. Wingspan: 28 to 34 mm.

Subspecies: There are three subspecies, of which two are found in Canada: the nominate subspecies leonardus occurs in the east and subspecies pawnee is found in the eastern Prairies.

Range: The range of the Leonard's Skipper extends across the northern U.S. from Maine to North Dakota. In Canada it flies in southern Nova Scotia, from the Eastern Townships of Quebec across southern Ontario northwest to Amyot, Algoma District, and from Sioux Narrows in extreme western Ontario across southern Manitoba to Redvers in southeastern Saskatchewan.

Similar Species: In the east, H. leonardus could be confused with the Common Branded Skipper (H.comma) and the Indian Skipper (H. sassacus). Hesperia comma may be distinguished by its greenish underside, and sassacus by its yellowish-orange underside and pale yellow spot band. In the west, subspecies pawnee may be confused with the Ottoe Skipper, Plains Skipper, and Dakota Skipper (H. ottoe, H.assiniboia and H. dacotae); distinguishing characters are given under ottoe. [compare images]

Early Stages: The larvae are pale brown, mottled with reddish brown. The head is black in subspecies leonardus, dark brown in subspecies pawnee. They feed on perennial grasses, including Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis), and panic grass (Panicum spp.) and hibernate as first- or second-instar larvae, completing most of their growth in their second year.

 

Abundance: Over the whole range H. leonardus is locally common but never abundant.

 

Flight Season: Both subspecies fly in August and September, being most common about the third week of August.

 

 

 

Habits: Subspecies leonardus flies in grassy trails, clearings, and forest edges. Subspecies pawnee is restricted to dry, sandy prairie. Both are regularly seen on flowers, in the west often on blazing star (Liatris spp.) and in the east on New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae) and Bugloss (Echium vulgare). When nectaring, the Leonard's Skipper is wary and difficult to approach, and its flight is more powerful than most other skippers.

Remarks: Hesperia leonardus and subspecies pawnee were long considered separate species. In 1981 it was concluded that they were conspecific, after a study of a series of intermediate specimens from Minnesota (Scott and Stanford, 1981). More recently (Spomer et al., 1993), in a study of specimens from 43 sites in the Loess Hills, a 200-mile-long series of bluffs stretching from South Dakota to Missouri, found complete intergradation between pawnee in the north and leonardus in the south, thus confirming that these are subspecies of a single 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.