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Montana Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Common Checkered-Skipper - Burnsius communis

Native Species

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S5

Agency Status


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General Description
[From Ferris and Brown 1981; Scott 1986; Opler and Wright 1999; Glassberg 2001; Pyle 2002] Forewing 1.3-1.5 cm. Male genetalia with elongated double-toothed tip to each valve, top of head with long black and white hairs. Wing fringes checkered, but black check reach only halfway especially on hindwing. Uppersurface of most males with blue-gray tone, females black with small white spots; hindwing marginal spots much smaller than in submarginal row. Undersurface of hindwing with bands variable in width and color (gray-white to gray-brown), a black "telephone-shaped" mark near wing base.

Several flights, June to mid-October northward, all year in southern Texas (Scott 1986). Mainly May to September in two-flight areas, most of year in three-flight areas (Glassberg 2001). Mid-June to late October in North Dakota (McCabe and Post 1976), mid-May through October in western Nebraska (Johnson and Nixon 1967), mid-May to October in Colorado (Emmel 1964; Scott and Scott 1978), mid-June to mid-August at higher elevation in northern California (Emmel and Emmel 1962, 1963; Shapiro 1977), early April to early October in Oregon (Warren 2005).

Diagnostic Characteristics
Best determined by combination of male genetalia with elongate double-toothed tip to each valve, wing fringes checkered, uppersurface of males with blue-gray tone, females black with small white spots, hindwing marginal spots much smaller than in submarginal row; undersurface with a black "telephone-shaped" mark near wing base.

Species Range
Montana Range Range Descriptions


Range Comments
Across southern Canada, south in the west from southeastern British Columbia and central Alberta to California, southeastern Arizona, western Texas, to northern Mexico, and south throughout the Midwest and in the east from southern Ontario and southern New England to southern Florida (Scott 1986; Layberry et al. 1998; Opler and Wright 1999; Glassberg 2001; Guppy and Shepard 2001; Pyle 2002); usually below 2743 m but up to 3962 m elevation in Colorado and the Rocky Mountain states (Brown 1957; Emmel 1964; Scott and Scott 1978; Ferris and Brown 1981), to at least 2774 m elevation in northern California (Emmel and Emmel 1962; Shapiro 1977), 31 m to at least 2195 m elevation in Oregon (Warren 2005). In Montana, reported from most or all counties (Kohler 1980; Stanford and Opler 1993; FLMNH Lepidopterists' Society database), to at least 1829 m elevation. Common (Glassberg 2001).

Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 23

(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. Some individuals may wander northward and establish temporary colonies at the northern range margin (Opler and Wright 1999).

Open areas, prairie, highway shoulders, landfills, vacant lots, pasture, urban parks and gardens, wet and dry meadows, woodland and montane forest openings, above treeline in alpine terrain (Emmel and Emmel 1962; Emmel 1964; Johnson and Nixon 1967; Shapiro 1977; Ferris and Brown 1981; Scott 1986; Opler and Wright 1999; Glassberg 2001; Pyle 2002). Habitat in Montana not described but probably similar.

Food Habits
Larval food plants are native and exotic members of the Malvaceae, including Abutilon, Alcea, Althaea (multiple species), Anoda, Callirhoe, Hibiscus, Iliamna, Malva (several species), Malvastrum (multiple species), Malvella, Modiola, Sida (several species), Sidalcea (several species), and Sphaeralcea (several species) (Emmel and Emmel 1962; Shapiro 1977; Scott 1986, 1992, 2006; Pyle 2002; Graves and Shapiro 2003; Warren 2005; James and Nunnallee 2011). Adults feed on flower nectar (including Achillea, Agastache, Allium, Antirrhinum, Aptenia, Astragalus, Centaurea, Chrysanthemum, Cichorium, Cirsium, Convolulus, Coreopsis, Coronilla, Cosmos, Crypthantha, Cucumis, Echinacea, Erigeron, Eriogonum, Erysimum, Gaillardia, Ganzania, Gomphrena, Grindelia, Gutierrezia, Helianthus, Heterotheca, Hymenopappus, Hymenoxys, Lappula, iatris, Linum, Lobelia, Lobularia, Machaeranthera, Malva, Medicago, Melilotus, Nepeta, Oxytropis, Penstemon, Perovskia, Phlox, Psorelea, Rheum, Rorippa, Rubus, Rudbeckia, Sedum, Senecia, Sidalcea, Sisymbrium, Sphaeralcea, Symphyotrichum, Tagetes, Taraxacum, Thelesperma, Trifolium, Verbena, Verbesina, Veronica, Viguiera, Viola, Zinnea), dung, compost, and mud (Emmel 1964; Johnson and Nixon 1967; Pyle 2002; James and Nunnallee 2011; Scott 2014).

Reproductive Characteristics
Females lay eggs singly mostly on leaf buds, both sufaces of leaves, mostly near leaf margins (Scott 1986, 1992, 2006; James and Nunnallee 2011). Eggs hatch in about 3-5 days, develop from L1 instar to L5 instar and pupae in about 25-37 days (depending on temperature), adults eclose (emerge from pupae) in about 11-12 days. In late broods, overwinter (diapause) as L4 or L5 instars (Scott 1979, 1986; James and Nunnallee 2011). Larvae feed on host plant leaves, weave silk nest in rolled leaves, remain in nest during day and feed at night, pupate under webbing of silk within a nest or on inert surface and away from host plant (Scott 1986, 2006; James and Nunnallee 2011). Males perch on low objects throughout the day, sometimes patrol, in swales and valley bottoms awaiting passing females (Scott 1975b, 1986; James and Nunnallee 2011).

  • Literature Cited AboveLegend:   View Online Publication
    • Brown, F.M. 1957. Colorado Butterflies. Proceedings; Numbers Three through Seven. Denver Museum of Natural History, Denver, Co.
    • Emmel, T.C. 1964. The ecology and distribution of butterflies in a montane community near Florissant, Colorado. American Midland Naturalist 72(2): 358-373.
    • Emmel, T.C. and J.F. Emmel. 1962. Ecological studies of Rhopalocera in a High Sierran Community-Donner Pass, California. I. Butterfly associations and distributional factors. Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society 16:23-44.
    • Emmel, T.C. and J.F. Emmel. 1963. Ecological studies of Rhopalocera in a High Sierran Community-Donner Pass, California. II. Meteorological influence on flight activity. Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society 17:7-20.
    • 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.
    • Graves, S.D. and A.M. Shapiro. 2003.Exotics as host plants of the California butterfly fauna. Biological Conservation 110: 413-433.
    • 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.
    • James, D.G. and D. Nunnallee. 2011. Life histories of Cascadia butterflies. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Press. 447 p.
    • Johnson, K. and E. S. Nixon. 1967. The Rhopalocera of northwestern Nebraska. American Midland Naturalist 78:508-528.
    • 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.
    • McCabe, T.L. and R.L. Post. 1976. North Dakota butterfly calendar (including possible strays). Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera 15:93-99.
    • 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. 1979. Hibernal diapause of North American Papilionoidea and Hesperioidea. Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera 18(3): 171-200.
    • Scott, J.A. 1986. The butterflies of North America: a natural history and field guide. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California.
    • 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.
    • Shapiro, A.M. 1977. The alpine butterflies of Castle Peak, Nevada County, California. Great Basin Naturalist 37(4): 443-452.
    • 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.
    • Warren, A.D. 2005. Lepidoptera of North America 6: Butterflies of Oregon, their taxonomy, distribution, and biology. Contributions of the C. P. Gillette Museum of Arthropod Diversity, Colorado State University. Fort Collins, Colorado. 406 pp.
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View Online Publication
    Do you know of a citation we're missing?
    • 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.
    • Forister, M.L., C.A. Halsch, C.C. Nice, J.A. Fordyce, T.E. Dilts, J.C. Oliver, K.L. Prudic, A.M. Shapiro, J.K. Wilson, J. Glassberg. 2021. Fewer butterflies seen by community scientists across the warming and drying landscapes of the American West. Science 371:1042-1045.
    • Forister, M.L., E.M. Grames, C.A. Halsch, K.J. Burls, C.F. Carroll, K.L. Bell, J.P. Jahner, et al. 2023. Assessing risk for butterflies in the context of climate change, demographic uncertainty, and heterogeneous data sources. Ecological Monographs 93(3):e1584.
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Citation for data on this website:
Common Checkered-Skipper — Burnsius communis.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from