Cochise County Insects: The Common Checkered Skipper Butterfly, Pyrgus Communis

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Pyrgus communis? Yes…but that’s the scientific name for the Common Checkered Skipper butterfly recently photographed while dining on our Cochise County golden crownbeard flowers. It’s not a purge by Communists or of Communists no matter what it sounds like.

Rather, it’s kind of a…weird little butterfly. With a wingspan under two inches and a strikingly pretty white-and-black (or black-and-white, take your pick) wing pattern, it should be able to pass as “just another” attractive insect, but there is more. There is, in fact, a coat of markedly blue and decided fuzzy hair covering the torso which makes it look–at a glance, anyway–more like a hairy moth than a sleek butterfly.

Only the clubbed antennae ends put the lie to the moth theory. Moths have feathery antennae, not upside down golf clubs stuck in their heads like butterflies do.

So it was a butterfly, but what kind?

I don’t even remember how many flailing-around Google Images searches it took before I finally managed to stumble across a photo that looked like our golden crownbeard nectar sipper. Aha! Eureka! It was a checkered white…or wait, maybe a checkered skipper which might or might not be the same thing. This is confusing. There are several different checkered skipper species, too, which adds to the confusion.

Hmm….

In the end, patiently (or at least persistently) working through the possibilities, the ID narrowed down to a single unmistakeable choice. What we had was the Common Checkered Skipper butterfly, Pyrgus communis, a common little critter indeed; they show up in all of the lower 48 states, Mexico, Central America, and even a thin slice of South America.

Common Checkered Skipper, Pyrgus communis, feeding on golden crownbeard flower in southern Cochise County, Arizona.

Common Checkered Skipper, Pyrgus communis, feeding on golden crownbeard flower in southern Cochise County, Arizona.

The blue fuzz-hair on the Common Checkered Skipper looked moth-like but the golf club antennae clearly belonged to a butterfly.  What the--??

The blue fuzz-hair on the Common Checkered Skipper looked moth-like but the golf club antennae clearly belonged to a butterfly. What the–??

It turns out there are numerous species of butterflies that belong to a group known as Skippers, so named for their swift, darting flight. All Skippers also have fuzzy body hair; an Orange Skipper has a much different wing coloration pattern than a Common Checkered Skipper, for instance, but both are hairy-bodied. Thus, for future reference, we can be fairly confident that a hairy butterfly will definitely be a Skipper butterfly of some sort–and not a moth of any sort.

Glad we got that sorted out.

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Butterflies and Sunflowers 101

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Too many close-ups? Okay; let’s close out with this one, then.

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4 thoughts on “Cochise County Insects: The Common Checkered Skipper Butterfly, Pyrgus Communis

  1. Beautiful pictures, and I would have wondered about the fuzzy body, with golf club antenna aso. Katy asks me about whether it is a moth or a butterfly and I usually tell her the body is fuzzy on a moth. I am going to have to clarify that for her.

  2. I get that! This critter had me confused to the max for a little bit. Not the naked eye part; watching it work the blossoms, it definitely struck me as a butterfly–but it’s small enough and was far enough away that I didn’t see the fuzzy stuff until the photos were up on the computer screen. THEN I was thinking…”HUH?!”

    Prior to seeing these photos, I never had a clue that there was any such thing as a hairy butterfy.

  3. Sha, it’s not on all butterflies, but quite a few do have it. I noticed that the antennae on the bordered patch butterfly are similarly patterned.

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