Long-Tailed Skipper

Urbanus proteus

Long-tailed skipper

Long-tailed skipper, photographed in northwestern Delray Beach, Palm Beach County, in November 2014.

Two things stand out about the long-tailed skipper, Urbanus proteus: the long tail, of course, and the iridescent blue-green streak down this butterfly's body. They make the long-tailed one of the more colorful members of the skipper family and easy to identify.

Long-tails actually are common butterflies in South Florida, common, in fact, throughout the Sunshine State. They're found in all of the state's 67 counties as well as throughout the southeastern United States, up the Atlantic Coast as far north as Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut, straying occasionally to Massachusetts. They're found far west as southern Arizona and California. Their range extends south through the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and South America to Argentina. The long-tail population is considered secure throughout its range.

Long-tail skippers are active all year in Florida, but can't take sustained cold. Come fall, they're pretty much limited to the warmth of Florida's Peninsula and South Texas. Come the warmth of spring, they'll return back north. At least three generations are born during the year in areas where it winters over and as few as one in the north.

Their habitats includes disturbed sites, such as old fields and roadsides, open woods, the edges of woodlands and even backyard gardens. (The skipper in these photos was nectaring on pentas in my yard). They are middling in size, with a wingspan between an inch-and-a-half and two-and-a-half inches. Long-tail skipper adults aren't picky diners; they'll take nectar from just about any flowering plant that offers. Lantana, Spanish needles and bougainvillea are among the many they're attracted to.

But like most butterflies, they're more finicky about what they'll use as hosts for their offspring — plants that are members of Fabaceae, the pea family. Which can be a problem for us humans, because they will at times target cultivated crops, including beans.

Females will lay a single egg or a cluster of as many as 20 eggs but more commonly between two and six, on the underside of a leaf of a host plant. Once hatched, the larvae, or caterpillars will form a nest of sorts from rolled leaf and silk, and begin eating away at the host until it reaches pupa stage, when it encases itself in a silk and leaf cocoon.

Males are territorial and actively patrol for females and to keep rivals out. Males also will perch on a leaf three to six feet above the ground looking for females, which they'll find through their sense of smell.

Long-tails are members of Hersperidae, the skipper family.

Photo Gallery — Click on photo for larger image

Published by Wild South Florida, PO Box 7241, Delray Beach, FL 33482.

Photographs by David Sedore. Photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without permission.