Chequered skipper season is with us again
ONE of the wildlife specialities of the region is that the chequered skipper thrives in Lochaber and North Argyll, its only British location.
This pretty little chocolate-brown butterfly, no bigger than a thumbnail, has yellow chequered markings. Depending on the weather, the skippers fly from mid-May to the end of June. Their favoured larval food plant is purple moor grass, and they are often found where bog myrtle also grows in conjunction.
Often thought of as a butterfly of shaded woodland, skippers can also be found on damp hillsides, particularly in proximity to burns or rivers. The adults like to nectar on blue or purple flowers, particularly bluebells, bugle and lousewort.
Skippers are feisty little in- sects, with the males guarding a territory, flying up to see off any intruders off a sprig of myrtle or heather.
The females lay a single egg on a blade of purple moor grass and the caterpillars have a nifty trick of cutting a couple of notches on one side of the leaf to stimulate growth.
This allows them to continue to grow well into the autumn, and they overwinter as a caterpillar, the larger, the better. This, together with the warm, mild climate may be the reason they do so well locally. Pupation takes place in spring.
Good locations to find them include Glasdrum national nature reserve (NNR) on the shores of Loch Creran, Ariundle Oakwoods NNR at Strontian, Loch Arkaig, including the butterfly reserve at Allt Mhuic, and Glen Loy. We even get them occasionally in the garden at Glenloy Lodge.
Recent work co- ordinated by Butterfly Conservation has shown that the chequered skipper is much more widespread in Lochaber and North Argyll than once thought.
Targeted recording in specific 1km grid squares from 2012 to 2014 has revealed a wider distribution, with butterflies being found in no less than 104 new 1km squares, an increase of some 42 per cent.
It is not clear whether the butterflies are spreading or people have simply not looked widely enough before.
All information on distribution is welcome and sightings are particularly useful.
Records should be sent to Butterfly Conservation Scotland www. butterf ly- conservation. org.