The Horace’s Duskywing: Erynnis Horatius

Horace’s Duskywing is a skipper and skippers are a family within the order Lepidoptera, which also includes moths and butterflies. Skippers look superficially like butterflies but are small with proportionately large bodies and small triangular wings, oversized eyes, and hook-tipped antennae. They fly with quick, erratic, skipping flight, hence the family’s common name. Being diurnal, they’ve traditionally been considered more closely allied with the day-flying butterflies than the largely nocturnal moths.

The Horace's Duskywing resting on a leaf

Where Can the Horace’s Duskywing Be Found?

Ranging across the eastern United States, Horace’s Duskywing Skipper is common in open oak woodlands bordering fields with wildflowers. The larvae (caterpillars) are green and smooth-bodied with big, brownish, bulbous heads. The caterpillars feed on a variety of oak leaves, especially tender young growth. Adult duskywings visit flowers and sip nectar with long, curled, straw-like proboscises. Adults aren’t particular about their dietary preferences and may been seen feeding at a multitude of different flowering plant species, though favorites include Spanish Needles, Blanketflower, asters, goldenrods, Buttonbush, Shiny Wild Coffee, and Buttonsage, one of three native Florida lantanas. The female pictured in the accompanying photo is drinking at the small whitish flowers of a native Cocoplum shrub.

The Appearance of Florida’s Horace’s Duskywing

Horace’s Duskywing is one of several relatively nondescript, brownish spread-winged skippers found in Florida. Differentiating Horace’s Duskywing from its closely related, cryptic cousins can be maddening even under the best conditions. Further lending confusion to the duskywing’s identity is the origin of its name, thought to have been lost to antiquity. Horace’s Duskywing was named and described to science in 1870 by Scudder & Burgess. Entomologist Samuel Scudder had a younger brother by the name of Horace, who is likely the namesake Horace for whom the skipper was named, though this has never explicitly been spelled out.

How Horace’s Duskywing Benefits Native Trees & Wildlife

Beautifying your homestead with the addition of native trees and wildflowers is a fantastic way to aesthetically enhance your property and provide food and cover for native wildlife like Horace’s Duskywing. For more information on providing for and attracting butterflies to your property, consult the internet, butterfly field guides, and your local chapter of NABA, the North American Butterfly Association.

The Life-Cycle of the Horace’s Duskywing

The Horace Duskywing life-cycle is similar to other duskywings. Males visit puddles soon after emerging from their cocoons. Puddling is the term used to describe an aggregation of insects on wet soil or dung to get moisture and nutrients. Puddling is commonly seen in butterfly species with large numbers gathering at the edge of puddles.

To seek females, the males perch on twigs about one foot above the ground to intercept females. Mating can be observed around noon or midday. The females then deposit their green eggs singly on new growth on host plants. Host plants include milkweed (Ascelepias spp.), white twinvine (Sarcostemma clausum), and Florida milkvine (Matelea floridana). They generally have three broods a year, from January to November.

The caterpillars are blue-green with small white spots and a narrow dark dorsal stripe. The head is dark brown with orange around the margin like a necklace. They feed on young leaves and take shelter in leaf nests when not actively feeding. Late season caterpillars spend the winter in their nests in the leaves below the tree. They pupate in their nests in spring. The larvae form a dark green chrysalis from which the butterflies emerge.

Once they become adults, the average butterfly species has an average life span of approximately two weeks.

What Is the Horace’s Duskywing Flying Style?

The adult Horace duskywings have a rapid, darting flying style. The feed and feed and perch with wings outstretched. They are fast fliers and can visit flowers that reach up to four and a half feet tall.

What Is the Wingspan of the Horace’s Duskywing?

With a wingspan of 1¼-1½ inches, the Horace duskywing is a small butterfly. The average wingspan of butterflies is 11-12 inches. Their wings don’t grow; they come out of the chrysalis fully grown and stretch their wings. The butterfly species with the largest wingspan is the Alexandra’s Birdwing. Found only in Papua New Guinea, this butterfly has a wingspan of up to 12 inches.

Like bees, butterflies pollinate plants, which helps in plant reproduction. They also keep many plant and insect species under control by eating them. In addition, they also serve as sustenance for other species. Because butterflies are so sensitive to ecosystem changes, scientists often track butterfly populations and behavior shifts as markers for changes in local environments.