Saving England's most threatened species from extinction

The history of the Chequered Skipper Butterfly

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,

 

Susannah O’Riordan

Project Officer

 

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.
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2 thoughts on “The history of the Chequered Skipper Butterfly

  1. I think I had a chequered skipper in my garden earlier this week. I’m in Rushden. My garden has a mulberry tree, a silver birch, mountain ash, crabapple, plum, pear, apples and several woody bushes. It’s very much a wild life garden. I saw the butterfly, didn’t recognise it, and have now managed to find a picture of the chequered skipper. Would it have come down this way now that Rushden Lakes is more mature ?

    1. Hi Anna,

      Thanks for getting in touch – it’s always lovely to hear that people are outdoors and among nature!
      This is the response from Susannah, our Roots of Rockingham project officer in charge of the Chequered Skippers, I hope it helps:

      It sounds like you have a lovely garden, but I’m afraid it wouldn’t have been a Chequered Skipper that you saw. The adults that were released in Rockingham Forest were only on the wing until mid-June, though will have laid eggs during this period that will now have hatched into larvae. Whilst the Chequered Skipper does have the ability to travel (1 to 2.5km) to colonise new sites it would be unlikely to have happened so quickly – and Rushden is some distance from the release site.

      Cheers,
      BftB

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