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Erynnis persius

What do they look like?

Persius duskywings are a type of butterfly called skippers. They are small and very dark. The wings are rounded with a wingspan of 29 to 42 mm, with a brown-black upperside and a lighter underside. The upper front wings have light markings that look grey near the tip and a row of light spots. They have a thick body, and like all skippers, their antennae are thin with a hooked, club tip. Males have raised white hairs on the forewing. Males also have yellow scent scales in a fold on the front wings. Females have slightly different coloring on their wings than males. Females have a more noticeable grey color on the tip of the front wings, and larger spots. Females have a patch of scent cells on the seventh segment of the abdomen.

Eggs are pale yellow-green or pale yellow and will turn reddish.

Larvae, also called caterpillars, are pale green with tiny white dots, with a dark green line and yellowish line down their back. The head is yellowish to dark reddish brown.

Pupae are a dull, olive green, speckled with pale dots. The abdomen is pinkish brown. (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 2013; Opler, et al., 2012; Scott, 1986; Shepherd, 2005)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • Range wingspan
    29 to 42 mm
    1.14 to 1.65 in

Where do they live?

Erynnis persius, or the Persius duskywing, also known as the hairy duskywing, is a butterfly species found across North America. The eastern subspecies, Erynnis persius persius, lives in the northern states from southeastern Minnesota to Maine and south into the Appalachian mountains in Virginia. Another subspecies, Erynnis persius borealis, is located in the west, found from the western Dakotas and Manitoba west to Alaska and south to New Mexico and California. (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 2013; Shepherd, 2005)

What kind of habitat do they need?

The Persius duskywing butterfly lives in open woodlands, mountain grassland, marshes, sand plains, and alongside streams. Its subspecies, Eyrnnis persius persius is found in areas where the wild blue lupine (Lupinus perennis) occurs. The caterpillar for this subspecies feeds on and lives on this plant. (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 2013; Opler, et al., 2012; Scott, 1986; Shepherd, 2005)

How do they grow?

Persius duskywings go through complete metamorphosis, meaning that they have the life stages of egg, larvae/caterpillar, pupae, and adult. Females will lay a single egg under the leaf of a few particular plants. Once the egg hatches, the caterpillars will eat leaves off the plant and live in nests of rolled or tied leaves. Full grown caterpillars will hibernate in shelters made of leaves during the winter and emerge in the spring and summer to become pupae. After pupation, they emerge as butterflies. (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 2013; Opler, et al., 2012; Scott, 1986; Shepherd, 2005)

How do they reproduce?

Males sit on hilltops, short plants, twigs, or bare spots to wait for females mates. Once a female passes the male, he will chase her and both will hover near each other. The male will hover over the female until she eventually lands, and the male will continue to hover over her until he also lands and they then mate. Both males and females have scent cells on them (the male on his wings and the female on her abdomen). These likely produce chemicals called pheromones that attract mates. (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 2013; Opler, et al., 2012; Scott, 1986)

Persius duskywings produce one batch of eggs per year during April to June. Eggs are laid one at a time on the underside of a plant leaf. Females choose plants that the caterpillar will eat after hatching. (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 2013; Opler, et al., 2012; Shepherd, 2005)

  • Breeding season
    Breeding takes place during the spring and early summer.

Females provide nutrients in the eggs for their offspring to grow and develop before hatching. They also lay the eggs on a plant that the caterpillars will eat after hatching, providing them with food. However, after the egg is laid, Persius duskywings leave the egg and do not return, giving no more parental care. (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 2013; Opler, et al., 2012; Shepherd, 2005)

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female

How long do they live?

The exact lifespan for Perius duskywing butterflies is not known, but they likely live several weeks to a few months after emerging as adult butterflies. Their lifespans can be shortened by bad weather such as hail and freezing temperatures. (Macy and Shepard, 1941; Scott, 1986)

How do they behave?

Persius duskywings are active insects that spend much of their time flying or sitting on objects. They are active during the day. When startled, they will fly wildly around. Males do not defend their territory from other males, like some other butterfly species may do. (NatureServe, 2013)

How do they communicate with each other?

Persius duskywings use chemicals called pheromones to communicate with each other. These are especially important for finding mates. Males and females have scent cells on their bodies. They also use sight, touch, and detect chemicals to gather information about their surroundings. (Scott, 1986)

What do they eat?

Adults feed on nectar from a variety of plants and flowers. Caterpillars of this species feed on several plants. Caterpillars of subspecies Erynnis persius persius feeds mainly on the wild blue lupine, Lupinus perennis. It may also use wild indigo species, Baptisia spp. Caterpillars of the western population of Persius duskywings feed on plants of the pea family, Fabaceae. (Macy and Shepard, 1941; Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 2013; Opler, et al., 2012; Shepherd, 2005)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • nectar

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Predators of butterflies include spiders, ant, wasps, some beetles, lizards, frogs, toads, rodents, and birds. To defend against ground predators, Persius duskywings can simply fly away. Additionally, butterflies in general produce odor. Unpleasant odors can drive away predators. (Macy and Shepard, 1941; Scott, 1986)

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Persius duskywing butterflies are prey to a variety of vertebrate and arthropod predators. Butterflies play a small role in pollinating some flowers as they eat nectar from the flowers, which helps the plants reproduce. (Macy and Shepard, 1941; Scott, 1986)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • pollinates

Do they cause problems?

Some caterpillars can cause problems by eating too many leaves off of plants that are important to humans or ecosystems. Persius duskywing caterpillars are not known to cause problems like this though. (Macy and Shepard, 1941)

How do they interact with us?

Most butterfly species help people out by pollinating plants that we use. Additionally, the decrease in population size of the subspecies Erynnis persius persius has caused many eastern states to conduct research on this butterfly and their habitat to prevent them becoming endangered or extinct. This creates jobs and scientific opportunities. (Macy and Shepard, 1941)

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • research and education

Are they endangered?

In many of the places Persius duskywings live, their populations are safe and we do not have to worry about them becoming endangered. However, in the eastern part of where they live in North America, there are less and less of them as time goes on. It is considered an endangered species in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, and Ohio. It is also listed as threatened in Michigan. Many of the causes of the decrease in Persius duskywing numbers is due to habitat destruction by people building cities and farmland. The use of chemicals has also accidentally killed many Persius duskywings. The loss of the plants that the caterpillars need for food also makes it difficult for them to survive.


Bridgett Winkels (author), Minnesota State University, Mankato, Robert Sorensen (editor), Minnesota State University, Mankato, Angela Miner (editor), Animal Diversity Web Staff.


Barton, B. 2007. "Special animal abstract for Persius duskywing (Erynnis persius persius). Michigan Natural Features Inventory. Lansing, MI. 2 pp." (On-line). Accessed March 28, 2013 at

Macy, R., H. Shepard. 1941. Butterflies: A handbook of the butterflies of the United States, Complete for the Region North of the Potomac and Ohio Rivers and East of Dakotas. Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 2013. "Erynnis persius (Scudder, 1863) Persius Duskywing" (On-line). Accessed March 24, 2013 at

NatureServe, 2013. "NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Version 7.1. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia" (On-line). Accessed March 26, 2013 at

Opler, P., L. Kelly, N. Thomas. 2012. "Butterflies and Moths of North America" (On-line). Accessed March 25, 2013 at

Scott, J. 1986. The Butterflies of North America. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Shepherd, M. 2005. "Skippers: Persius duskywing (Erynnis persius persius)" (On-line). The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. Accessed March 24, 2013 at

Shuey, J., J. Calhoun, D. Iftner. 1987. Butterflies that are Endangered, Threatened, and of Special Concern in Ohio. Ohio J. Sci., 87 (4):: 98-106.

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Winkels, B. 2014. "Erynnis persius" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 20, 2024 at

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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