The Chequered Skipper was first recorded in Britain near Bedford in May 1798 by Charles Abott. Although relatively common in mainland Europe, the Chequered Skipper was never widespread in Britain. For many years it was known only in England, found in a band of woodlands stretching from Oxfordshire to Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire. Its presence was one of the reasons Charles Rothschild, a pioneer of conservation, set up his estate in the heart of this area, at Ashton Wold near Oundle.
In 1942 the butterfly was first recorded in Scotland, and several populations of Chequered Skipper can still be found in western Scotland, in the Fort William area.
Rockingham Forest was a stronghold for the Chequered Skipper and it was a common sight here until the mid-20th century area, when it suffered a rapid decline. It was declared extinct in England in 1976. Changes in woodland management leading to the loss of the sunny, flower-rich open rides and glades are likely to have been a significant factor in this decline.
So what’s this elusive butterfly like?
It’s a small, fast-flying butterfly, with a wingspan of around 3cm, and beautiful gold and brown patterned wings. Adult butterflies seem to love the colour purple (just like me!), favouring plants with purple flowers such as Bugle, Bluebell and Ground Ivy as their nectar sources.
Adults can be seen on the wing from mid-May to the end of June, with males being easier to spot than females as they perch in sheltered positions, darting out to defend their territory or in the hope of locating a potential mate. Females are less conspicuous with paler markings and a tendency to fly low among grasses when egg-laying.
The egg is textured and pale white in colour and laid singly on tall blades of grass. In Scotland, females mainly lay eggs on Purple Moor Grass, whilst the primary choice for English populations was Wood False Brome, though a range of grasses may have been used. Once emerged from the egg, the caterpillar uses silk cords to form a tube on the blade of grass. It lives in this tube when not feeding and, once the blade of grass is eaten, moves on to another. After moulting five times, the caterpillar hibernates in a grass tent-like structure until spring.
If you’d like to know more about the Roots of Rockingham project and its hopes for this species, go to the webpage and have a read here.
Until next time,
Would you like to help this incredible species? There are numerous ways in which you can:
- Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
- Help us to spread the word of this species, and the others we will be helping over the next 3 years, by sharing our message across our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube pages. Follow us: @naturebftb.
- Finally - help support the work we do across England by donating. Our impact will be greater with your help.