With a wingspan between 1¾ and 2⅛ inches, this full-bodied butterfly is the largest and rarest of the Megathyminae, or giant skippers. Skippers (Hesperioidea) are distinct in the shape of their antennae, which have the clubbed tip bent slightly backwards. The “skip” in their name refers to the brisk pattern of their flight. The Huachuca giant skipper is on-the-wing in the Fall, and cannot be observed at any other time of the year. The adults emerge from their pupal chambers within the succulent leaves of Parry’s Agave, where earlier, as caterpillars they nourished themselves. The adults are very fast-flying, and are beautiful to behold as they abruptly perch on their host plant or imbibe moisture and nutrients from damp earth.
As few as 20 populations of this butterfly remain, and these occur on hillsides in the Huachuca Mountains of Southern Arizona. Skippers occupy similar sky island habitats in Sonora and Chihuahua, Mexico where Parry’s Agave grows. Habitat destruction is endangering skippers. Wildfire and overgrazing threaten the survival of this species.
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Why save species? Biodiversity is the foundation of life itself. It provides us with functional ecosystems in which fundamental processes such as photosynthesis, decomposition and nutrient cycling take place, providing us with essential services such as filtration of air and water. Bringing back biodiversity across large landscapes will help save bees, bats, hummingbirds, moths, flies, wasps, beetles, and butterflies, including the Huachuca giant skipper.
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Huachuca Giant Skipper
© Acrylic Painting, Michael James Riddet
Vanishing Circles Collection, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum