It may just be me, but skippers are kind of the teddy bears of the butterfly world. With their small, stocky bodies, furry faces and big eyes they are definitely very cute. This is a European skipper, Thymelicus lineola, an introduced species that has become very abundant in Eastern Canada. The ancestors of this skipper arrived as eggs stuck to imported grass seed.
Skippers tend to not be overly flashy in coloration, the majority being coloured with browns, oranges and greys. However, there are some skippers with bolder coloration, like this Arctic skipper (Carterocephalus palaemon). Interestingly, while named the Arctic skipper it is mainly found in more southern locales.
One of the characteristics of skippers is their tendency to rest with their wings turned up at an angle, unlike other butterflies who close their wings together vertically. The ancestors of the skippers branched off the main butterfly lineage likely in the Cretaceous period, so there has been many millions of years to evolve the diversity of butterflies that we see today.
A good place to find skippers is in flower meadows. Like most butterflies, skippers take nectar from flowers. This delightful wildflower meadow, in a forest clearing in Charleston Provincial Park, Eastern Ontario, was home to several European skippers.
This skipper was using its long proboscis to take nectar from cow vetch flowers on a dewy morning.
In the springtime dandelions are a valuable nectar source for many butterflies, including this Hobomok skipper, Poanes hobomok. While not popular with my neighbors, I tend to leave the dandelions in my lawn, and definitely don't use herbicide, to give the local butterflies a helping hand.
While European skippers are pretty easy to identify, with their orange wings, black wing margins and black lines radiating towards the edges, other skippers are much harder to identify.
One of the goals of nature photography is to not only capture images of animals but also behaviours, with mating surprisingly being one of the behaviours not too difficult to observe.
Owing to the way skippers hold their wings at rest, giving them a very three dimensional shape, photography is a bit more tricky than with other butterflies. This Dion skipper, Euphyes dion, was photographed with a very small aperture to give as much depth of field as possible.
Typically butterflies are photographed either from the side with straight up vertical wings or with horizontally flattened wing. However, I don't limit myself to these aspects and will often photograph from other viewpoints, as I did with this Broad-winged skipper, Poanes viator. Again a small aperture was used to give good depth of field.
The furry faces and bodies of skippers lend themselves to closeup photography. This European skipper was photographed with the background vegetation far enough away that no distinct shapes can be made out, leaving a simple, clean portrait.
The photograph of this long dash skipper, Polites mystic (great latin name), highlights why I generally use a flash rig for butterfly photography. This skipper was perched in a shaded location, so in order to achieve the necessary depth of field to show the way the wings are arranged in resting skippers, I used my Nikon R1 wireless flash system with two flashes on either side of my macro lens.
Most of my butterfly photography is done in the morning, before it gets too hot. In the early morning one of the benefits is coming across dew-covered skippers clinging to flowers. While you will get dew-soaked yourself, I think it's a small price to pay.
Skippers make great portrait subjects!

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