BioKIDS home

Kids' Inquiry of Diverse Species

Hesperia leonardus

What do they look like?

The Leonard's skipper is a small butterfly. Females are darker, slightly larger, and have more rounded wings than males. The antennae are fairly short, with clubbed ends that have a sharp tip that curves backward. This is a characteristic of all skippers. Males and females have different wing markings on the upper surface of the forewings. Males have a narrow, black band of specialized scent scales on their forewing, and are used for courtship. Females instead have a pattern of light-colored squarish spots on a darker background. The underside of the Leonard's skipper is rust red, with a band of orange to white spots on the hind wings.

It is possible to tell apart the 3 subspecies based on color. On Hesperia leonardus leonardus, the hindwing below is dark brown with whiteish spots, and the upper wings are dark brown or black with yellow bands. Hesperia leonardus pawnee has hindwings that are yellow or orange with few or no spots below, and the top of forewing is orange with brown borders. For Hesperia leonardus monata, the wings above are brownish red with spots. ("Attributes of Hesperia leonardus", 2013; "Hesperia leonardus", 2012; "Hesperia leonardus", 2013; "Hesperia leonardus", 2014; Clench, 1967)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • Range wingspan
    1.5 to 1.65 cm
    0.59 to 0.65 in

Where do they live?

Hesperia leonardus, the Leonard's skipper, is a butterfly that lives in northeastern United States and southern Canada. It has a wide geographic range from Nova Scotia and Maine south to North Carolina, and west to Minnesota and Saskatchewan. There are three H. leonardus subspecies. Subspecies H. leonardus leonardus lives in eastern and midwestern United States, and southeastern Canada. Subspecies H. leonardus pawnee lives in the western portion of its range. Subspecies H. leonardus montana lives only in Colorado. ("Attributes of Hesperia leonardus", 2013; "Hesperia leonardus", 2012; "Hesperia leonardus", 2013)

What kind of habitat do they need?

The Leonard's skipper lives in savannas, open woodlands, woodland meadows, prairies, and other dry grassy habitats. Other habitats include open deciduous, coniferous, or mixed woodlands, oak savannas, and grassy rock outcrops. This species is often found in areas that have a certain kind of grass called Little Bluestem. ("Hesperia leonardus", 2012; "Hesperia leonardus", 2013; Shuey, 2005)

How do they grow?

Leonard's skippers has a life cycle of egg, larva (also known as a caterpillar), pupa, and adult. This is called complete metamorphosis. The life cycle begins when eggs are laid in late summer. The eggs hatch after 10 days. The newly hatched larvae will feed for a short time and then go into hibernation for winter. They emerge in spring, and feed and continue to grow. The larvae becomes a pupae in late July, and then become adults in August. ("Hesperia leonardus", 2013; "Hesperia leonardus", 2014)

How do they reproduce?

After emerging from pupation in late summer, males will attract females by flying around and perching on plants. They have special scent scales on their wings that produce scents that attract females. Females fly into the vegetation where the males are waiting to mate. ("Hesperia leonardus", 2012; "Hesperia leonardus", 2013)

The life cycle of the Leonard's skipper takes place once a year. The eggs are laid on or near plants in late summer and hatch in about 10 days. The plants that females choose are certain types of grasses that larvae will eat once they hatch. Leonard's skippers are ready to mate in August after they emerge from pupation. ("Hesperia leonardus", 2013; Swengel and Swengel, 1997)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Hesperia leonardus has one generation per year.
  • Breeding season
    Mating takes place during the late summer.
  • Range eggs per season
    200 to 250
  • Average gestation period
    10 days

Leonard's skippers provide some care for their offspring before birth. Females provide nutrients in the eggs. They also lay the eggs on plants that the larvae will eat when they hatch. After the eggs are laid, they leave and do not return. Males do not provide any care. ("Hesperia leonardus", 2013)

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

How long do they live?

Adult females live about two weeks after emerging from pupation. ("Hesperia leonardus", 2013)

  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    14 days

How do they behave?

Skippers use the heat from the sun to warm their bodies. They also have to be careful that they don't overheat in the sun. To do this, they change the position their body is in, and will open and close their wings. They spend much of their time feeding and sunning themselves. Skipper caterpillars build shelters by tying together leaves, and they spend much of their time in these shelters when not feeding on leaves. Leonard's skippers are fast fliers, and they beat their wings so fast that they look like a blur to the human eye. (Clench, 1966)

How do they communicate with each other?

To communicate with females to mate, males produce chemicals from the scent scales on their wings. These attract females and let them know that the males are ready to mate. Leonard's skippers also likely detect chemicals in their environment, and also use vision to find mates and flowers to feed on. ("Hesperia leonardus", 2012; "Hesperia leonardus", 2013)

What do they eat?

Larvae feed on grasses, and adults feed on nectar from flowers. Some common species that adults are attracted to are blazing stars (Liatris), goldenrods (Solidago), asters (Aster), and iron weed (Veronia). ("Hesperia leonardus", 2013)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • nectar

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

There is little known about what preys on Leonard's skippers, but it is likely that birds and other flying insects eat the adults.

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Leonard's skippers effect the ecosystem by pollinating wildflowers while feeding on nectar. This helps the flowers to reproduce. ("Hesperia leonardus", 2013)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • pollinates

Do they cause problems?

Leonard's skippers do not cause any problems for humans.

How do they interact with us?

Leonard's skippers do not have any positive effects on humans.

Are they endangered?

Leonard's skippers are not an endangered species. However, their populations are threatened by habitat destruction. Since they only live in prairies, if people destroy these prairies, Leonard's skippers will die out. They are also effected by chemicals, prairie fires, and livestock eating the grass that the caterpillars need to eat. One place where their population is declining is Minnesota, and Minnesota is trying to stop this by protecting the prairies.


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


2013. "Attributes of Hesperia leonardus" (On-line). Butterflies and Moths of North America. Accessed March 26, 2013 at

2014. "Hesperia leonardus" (On-line). Encyclopedia of Life. Accessed March 26, 2013 at

2013. "Hesperia leonardus" (On-line). Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Accessed March 26, 2013 at

2012. "Hesperia leonardus" (On-line). NatureServe Explorer. Accessed March 26, 2013 at

2013. "Leonard's skipper (Hesperia leonardus)" (On-line). Wisconcin Department of Natural Resources. Accessed March 26, 2013 at

Clench, H. 1966. Behavioral Thermoregulation in Butterflies. Ecology, 47/6: 1021-1034. Accessed May 02, 2013 at

Clench, H. 1967. Temporal Dissociation and Population Regulation in Certain Hesperiine Butterflies. Ecology, 48/6: 1000-1006.

Shuey, J. 2005. Assessing the Conservation Value of Complementary System of Habitat Reserves Relative to Butterfly Species at Risk and Divergent Populations. American Midland Naturalist, 153/1: 110-120.

Spomer, S., L. Higley, T. Orwig, G. Selby, L. Young. 1993. Clinal Variation in Hesperia Leonardus (Hesperiidae) In the Loess Hills of the Missouri River Valley. Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society, 47/4: 291-302. Accessed May 01, 2013 at

Swengel, A., S. Swengel. 1997. Co-occurrence of prairie and barrens butterflies: applications to ecosystem conservation. Journal of Insect Conservation, 1/2: 131-144.

Swengel, A., S. Swengel. 1999. Observations of Prairie Skippers (Oarisma poweshiek, Hesperia dacotae, H. ottoe, H. leonardus pawnee, and Atrytone Arogos iowa)( Lepidoptera: Hesperiidae) in Iowa, Minnesota, and North Dakota During 1988-1997. The Great Lakes Entomologist, 32/4: 267-292.

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

BioKIDS home  |  Questions?  |  Animal Diversity Web  |  Cybertracker Tools

Johnson, C. 2014. "Hesperia leonardus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed March 03, 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.
Copyright © 2002-2024, The Regents of the University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

University of Michigan