Long-Tailed Skipper Butterfly Overview

A Long-tailed skipper is a butterfly that lives in Central, South, and North America. It is unique for its tendency to hang upside down when feeding.

Long-Tailed Skipper Butterfly species summary

Scientific NameUrbanus proteus
Family NameHesperiidae
Kingdom Animalia
Genus Urbanus
HabitatDisturbed open habitats, gardens, woodland edges
RangeNorth, South, and Central America
Host PlantsLegumes
Butterfly DescriptionLight brown with undertones of iridescent blue
Caterpillar DescriptionBrownish-black head with yellow line on its thorax

What color are the Long-tailed skipper’s wings?

long-tailed skipper butterfly feeding on a flower
Long-tailed skipper butterfly feeding on a flower

This butterfly is light brown with undertones of iridescent blue or blue-green shades on the dorsal view (upper side) of the wings. It usually has hints of black or dark brown shades as well. 

On the other hand, the wings’ ventral view (underside) has a darker shade. A complete band runs across this part and displays an iridescent blue shade. One of its main features is the tails extending from the hindwings’ caudal side.

The average wingspan of Long-tailed skipper butterflies is about 3 to 4 inches, making it a medium to large butterfly.

Is a Long-tailed skipper a moth?

The Long-tailed skipper is not a moth. Experts named it skipper due to darting and quick flight patterns — sudden movements similar to skipping.

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Caterpillar Physical Description

Long-tailed skipper caterpillar
Long-tailed skipper caterpillar

The Long-tailed skipper caterpillar has yellow lines on its thorax. The head is brownish-black and has a prothoracic shield to protect it against predators.

As soon as it molts into a second instar, the dorsal parts of its trunk will have small spots. The yellow lateral lines will become more prominent as the caterpillar becomes the third instar.

The average length of the Long-tailed skipper caterpillar before it goes into a pupal state is about 1 to 2 inches.

Ideal Habitat

Long-tailed skipper butterflies typically thrive in the following types of surroundings:

  • Brushy fields
  • Disturbed open habitats
  • Gardens
  • Woodland edges

These butterflies cannot tolerate frost.

What is the host plant for a Long-tailed skipper?

The Long-tailed skipper caterpillars eat the leaves of these plants:

  • Wisteria (Wisteria)
  • Blue peas (Clitoria)
  • Tick-trefoils or beggar’s ticks (Desmonium)
  • Vine legumes, such as beans (Phaseolus)
  • Plants of the legume family
  • Hog peanuts (Amphicarpa bracteata)

What do Long-tailed skipper butterflies eat?

Long-tailed skipper butterflies feed on the nectar of the following plants:

  • Wisteria
  • Bougainvillea
  • Legumes
  • Shepherd’s needle
  • Lantana

Behavior and mating ritual

Unlike other butterflies that spin their chrysalis in the pupal state, Long-tailed skipper caterpillars use rolled leaves on the outer part of the pupa to protect themselves against predators. Bluish hairs commonly cover this layer.

Because of their fondness for beans, Long-tailed skipper caterpillars are usually considered pests, especially in South America. This is the reason they are also called “bean leafrollers” in this region. 

Male Long-tailed skipper butterflies are territorial. They always dominate areas where the females commonly stay during the mating season, usually during springtime.

Once the male adult butterflies locate the females through their sense of “smell,” they land on foliage (about 1 to 2 meters above the ground) and wait for the females to come their way. 

When a male finds his mate, he performs a courtship dance. The dance consists of flying upward in a spiraling fashion and then abruptly falling to the ground – on a spot where they will eventually breed.

After successful mating, it will take a female a couple of days to lay the eggs. She will look for the fitting underside of a host plant’s leaf and lay about 20 eggs on that spot. Adult butterflies live for about 30 days.

Predators and Threats

Natural enemies of the Long-tailed skipper caterpillars are:

  • Stink bugs: Florida predatory variety (Euthyrhynchus floridanus)
  • Wasps
  • Fly parasitoids
  • Birds
  • Small mammals

Other threats to the caterpillars include a nuclear polyhedrosis virus and common insecticides.

What is a long-tailed skipper’s defense mechanism?

Long-tailed skipper's tail
Long-tailed skipper’s tail

The Long-tailed skipper’s defense mechanism is located in its tailPredators will often go for this body part, but the butterfly will release the scales from its tail, so predators will be left with nothing.

Where do long-tailed skippers live?

There are sightings of the Long-tailed skipper butterfly in South America (Argentina), Central America, and North America (the West Indies and the US). In the US, they are frequent in Texas, Alabama, Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, and Massachusetts.

Do long-tailed skippers migrate?

Adult butterflies migrate north and temporarily colonize the Southeast and Atlantic coast. In the fall, they will move to Florida to overwinter.

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