A Skipper Out of Sync With Its Nectar Source?

A September 2021 photo of a fresh Leonard’s Skipper in Savage River State Forest, MD:Garrett Co [photo by Lydia Fravel]

This is likely to be the weekend that the first Leonard’s Skipper shows up at Soldiers Delight serpentine barrens in Baltimore Co.  Last week they were AWOL but it was a terrific field experience for folks wanting to nail the ID differences between Crossline, Tawny-edged, Swarthy, Little Glassywing, and Sachem.  Liatris in some places was at peak (1-2-1/3 bloomed out) with a few just beginning to flower and a few pretty much done for.  Remember that unlike most flowers, Liatris blooms from the top down on the inflorescence.  

However, we know from a lot of observations in PA and some excellent sleuthing last year by Lydia and Dennis Fravel in Garrett Co that there are mountain/Appalachian spine populations of this large, handsome skipper as well, and Kathy Barylski reported it in flight in Canaan Valley during the middle of August this year.  Whether these represent as yet unstudied cryptic or sibling species is something to consider.  

The Soldiers Delight population is of special concern because it appears that it is increasingly out of sync in that location with the peak bloom of Liatris, which is pretty much the only common nectar source there this time of year.  Hot dry weather and drought increasingly push the bloom earlier or fry out the plants before Leonard’s is fully on the wing.  

Liatris sp. in bloom along the Choate Mine Trail last week at Soldiers Delight. This one is about half bloomed out — the plants bloom from the top of the spike down, so all those “flowers” at the top of the stem are already spent.
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