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Montana Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Common Branded Skipper - Hesperia comma

Native Species

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: SNR

Agency Status


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General Description
There is some disagreement on the taxonomic status of members in the Hesperia comma group, which includes a number of described subspecies, some of which have been elevated to full species (e.g., H. assiniboia, H. colorado) by some authorities (Scott 1975d, 1986; Scott and Fisher 1998; Layberry et al. 1998; Oppler and Wright 1999; Guppy and Shepard 2001; Forister et al. 2004; Alcorn and Sheldon 2006). Given past taxonomic uncertainty and instability, this account probably includes information pertaining to more than one species.

[From Ferris and Brown 1981; Scott 1986; Layberry et al. 1998; Opler and Wright 1999; Glassberg 2001; Pyle 2002] Forewing 1.3-1.6 cm. Long hairs on head, antennae relatively short with long club, forewing stubby with rounded apex. Uppersurface of forewing brownish-orange, border black and broad, male stigma (scent area) with black interior "felt"; undersurface of hindwing greenish to green-brown with postmedian chevron of distinct lustrous white patches connected or almost connected, the closest to abdomen offset inwardly.

One flight, mainly late July to early September (Scott 1986). Mainly June to September (Glassberg 2001). Late June to early September in Canada (Layberry et al. 1998). Mid-June to mid-August in British Columbia (Threatful 1988; Guppy and Shepard 2001).

Diagnostic Characteristics
Best determined by a combination of the uppersurface of forewing brownish-orange, border black and broad; undersurface of hindwing greenish to green-brown with postmedian chevron of distinct lustrous white (not yellowish) patches connected or almost connected, the closest to abdomen offset inwardly.

Species Range
Montana Range


Range Comments
Holarctic. In North America, northern Alaska south in the mountains to British Columbia, Alberta to northwestern Wyoming, east across Canada to Labrador and south to the Great Lakes states (Scott 1986; Layberry et al. 1998; Opler and Wright 1999; Guppy and Shepard 2001; Pyle 2002); 1859 m to 2042 m elevation in southeastern British Columbia (Threatful 1988). In Montana, members of the Hesperia comma complex reported throughout the state (Stanford and Opler 1993), but forms now attributable to H. comma reported east to Liberty County in the north, Carbon County in the south (Kohler 1980; FLMNH Lepidopteristis' Society database). Mainly common to abundant (Glassberg 2001).

Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 12

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density



(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

Non-migratory. Most probably move 100 m or less in suitable habitat (James and Nunnallee 2011).

Grassy meadows in montane woodlands, taiga, bogs, rockslides, tundra, above treeline in alpine terrain (Threatful 1988; Layberry et al. 1998; Opler and Wright 1999; Glassberg 2001; Pyle 2002). Habitat in Montana not described but probably similar.

Food Habits
Larval food plants are grasses, including Andropogon, Bouteloua, Bromus, Festuca, Hesperostipa (=Stipa), Koeleria, Lolium, Muhlenbergia, Poa (multiple species), and sedges (Carex) (Scott 1986, 1992, 2006; Layberry et al. 1998; Pyle 2002). Adults feed on flower nectar (including Achillea, Arctium, Berteroa, Campanula, Carduus, Centaurea, Chrysothamnus, Cichorium, Cirsium, Dipsacus, Erigeron, Eriogonum, Geranium, Grindelia, Gutierrezia, Helianthus, Heterotheca, Liatris, Machaeranthera, Medicago, Penstemon, Rudbeckia, Senecio, Solidago, Symphyotrichum, Viguiera) and mud (Scott 2014).

Reproductive Characteristics
Females lay eggs somewhat haphazardly on or near host plant mostly on underside of leaf. Eggs (sometimes L1 instar) diapause (overwinter), with L1 instar well developed. Larval development from L1 instar to L6 instar (L5 instar in some cases) and pupae may take up to 143 days in captivity. Larvae feed on host plant leaves, live in nests of rolled and silk-tied leaves, pupate in silken cocoon within leaf nest, adults eclose (emerge from pupae) in about 15-17 days (Scott 1975e, 1979, 1986, 1992, 2006; James and Nunnallee 2011). Males probably perch throughout the day on flats and hilltops near host plants, waiting for passing females (Scott 1975b, 1986; James and Nunnallee 2011).

  • Literature Cited AboveLegend:   View Online Publication
    • Acorn, J. and I. Sheldon. 2006. Butterflies of British Columbia. Edmonton, Alberta. Lone Pine Publishing. pp.360
    • Ferris, C.D. and F.M. Brown (eds). 1981. Butterflies of the Rocky Mountains. Univ. of Oklahoma Press. Norman. 442 pp.
    • Glassberg, J. 2001. Butterflies through Binoculars: A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Western North America. Oxford University Press.
    • Guppy, C.S. and J.H. Shepard. 2001. Butterflies of British Columbia: including western Alberta, southern Yukon, the Alaska Panhandle, Washington, northern Oregon, northern Idaho, northwestern Montana. UBC Press (Vancouver, BC) and Royal British Columbia Museum (Victoria, BC). 414 pp.
    • Kohler, S. 1980. Checklist of Montana Butterflies (Rhopalocera). Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society 34(1): 1-19.
    • Layberry, R.A., P.W. Hall, and J.D. LaFontaine. 1998. The Butterflies of Canada. University of Toronto Press. 280 pp. + color plates.
    • Opler, P.A. and A.B. Wright. 1999. A field guide to western butterflies. Second edition. Peterson Field Guides. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. 540 pp.
    • Pyle, R.M. 2002. The butterflies of Cascadia: a field guide to all the species of Washington, Oregon, and surrounding territories. Seattle Audubon Society, Seattle, Washington. 420 pp.
    • Scott, J.A. 1975b. Mate-locating behavior of western North American butterflies. Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera 14:1-40.
    • Scott, J.A. 1975d. Clinal intergradation of Hesperia comma colorado (Hesperiidae). Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society 29:156-161.
    • Scott, J.A. 1975e. Early stages of seven Colorado Hesperia (Hesperiidae). Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society 29:163-167.
    • Scott, J.A. 1986. The butterflies of North America: a natural history and field guide. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California.
    • Scott, J.A. and M.S. Fisher. 1998. New western North American butterflies. Papilio new series #11. 10 p.
    • Stanford, R.E. and P.A. Opler. 1993. Atlas of western USA butterflies: including adjacent parts of Canada and Mexico. Unpubl. Report. Denver and Fort Collins, Colorado 275 pp.
    • Threatful, D.L. 1988. A list of the butterflies and skippers of Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks, British Columbia, Canada (Lepidoptera). Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera 27(3-4): 213-221.
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View Online Publication
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    • Allen, T.J., J.P. Brock, and J. Glassberg. 2005. Caterpillars in the field and garden: a field guide to the butterfly caterpillars of North America. Oxford University Press.
    • Brock, J.P. and K. Kaufman. 2003. Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies of North America. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, NY 284 pp.
    • Brown, F.M. 1957. Colorado Butterflies. Proceedings; Numbers Three through Seven. Denver Museum of Natural History, Denver, Co.
    • Forister, M.L., J.A. Fordyce, and A.M. Shapiro. 2004. Geological barriers and restricted gene flow in the Holarctic skipper Hesperia comma (Hesperiidae). Molecular Ecology 13:3489-3499.
    • James, D.G. and D. Nunnallee. 2011. Life histories of Cascadia butterflies. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Press. 447 p.
    • Scott, J.A. 1979. Hibernal diapause of North American Papilionoidea and Hesperioidea. Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera 18(3): 171-200.
    • Scott, J.A. 1992. Hostplant records for butterflies and skippers (mostly from Colorado) 1959-1992, with new life histories and notes on oviposition, immatures, and ecology. Papilio new series #6. 185 p.
    • Scott, J.A. 2006. Butterfly hostplant records, 1992-2005, with a treatise on the evolution of Erynnis, and a note on new terminology for mate-locating behavior. Papilio new series #14. 74 p.
    • Scott, J.A. 2014. Lepidoptera of North America 13. Flower visitation by Colorado butterflies (40,615 records) with a review of the literature on pollination of Colorado plants and butterfly attraction (Lepidoptera: Hersperioidea and Papilionoidea). Contributions of the C.P. Gillette Museum of Arthopod Diversity. Fort Collins, CO: Colorado State University. 190 p.
    • Scott, J.A. and G.R. Scott. 1978. Ecology and distribution of the butterflies of southern central Colorado. Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera 17(2): 73-128.
    • Scott, J.A. and M.E. Epstein. 1987. Factors affecting phenology in a temperate insect community. American Midland Naturalist 117(1): 103-118.
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Citation for data on this website:
Common Branded Skipper — Hesperia comma.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from