The dun skipper lives up to none of our expectations about butterflies. It is not large or brightly coloured, having only short brown wings. It does not flit gaily among gardens and flowery meadows, instead darting rapidly around ditches, forest edges, and wetland margins. For the most part, it remains an unnoticed inhabitant of unremarkable spaces. The dun skipper (Euphyes vestris) is found throughout central and eastern North America, including all the provinces from Saskatchewan to Nova Scotia. West of the Great Plains, however, it becomes patchy and uncommon. It is not found in Alberta, and BC populations are confined to the lower Fraser River watershed, Vancouver Island, and some Gulf Islands. These western populations were listed as Threatened by the Committee for the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada in 2000.
Photo credits. 1. Laura Matthias 2. James Miskelly 3. Mike Yip 4. Laura Matthias
They are now protected under the Species at Risk Act. In the last few years, dun skippers have been discovered on Salt Spring Island. Dun skippers are small, moth like butterflies with wingspans of about 2.5 cm. The wings are evenly brown, ranging from milk chocolate to dark chocolate. Females sometimes have a pair of small whitish spots on the wings, while males are immaculate brown. Dun skippers may be in flight anytime from early June to early August, but are most frequently seen in July. They are rarely abundant and typically only one is seen at a time. They are associated with soft, fine leaved sedges (Carex species), on which the eggs are laid and the caterpillars feed.Adults sip nectar from purple or blue flowers, and are especially fond of self heal (Prunella vulgaris). Any site that supports a stand of suitable sedges is potential dun skipper habitat, including roadside ditches and seasonally wet fields. Sometimes, these butterflies may be found around ‘micro wetlands’ only a few metres wide that may be dry through much of the summer. The major threat to dun skippers is the same as for most other species at risk: habitat destruction. Historically many wetlands were drained or filled for agriculture. Today, wetlands continue to be destroyed for residential and commercial development. Remaining wetlands may be impacted by invasive plants, such as reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea). This tall grass can form a dense monoculture around wetlands and in wet fields, out competing the sedges that the butterflies require. The habitat of the dun skipper supports many other species at risk, including the western pondhawk dragonfly (Erythemis collocata), the red-legged frog (Rana aurora), and flowering Vancouver Island beggar ticks (Bidens amplissima). These species all benefit from wetland protection. For landowners who have wetlands, caring for these species can be quite simple. Leave a small buffer around your wetland unmowed to allow the natural vegetation to grow. And avoid the introduction of non-native plants and animals at all costs.