Monday, 1 August 2016

15th August 1832 …

Lulworth Skipper (Thymelicus acteon)

To the lepidopterist the name James Charles Dale (1791-1872) will always be associated with the discovery of a butterfly new to Britain, Thymelicus acteon, the Lulworth Skipper. It is recorded, that on the 15th August 1832, Dale, having journeyed around twenty miles on horseback from his home at Glanvilles Wootton, reached Durdle Door, near Lulworth Cove. Here he found considerable numbers of acteon along the cliff tops. However, it was not until John Curtis reported Dale’s discovery in Volume 10 of his British Entomology, published in 1833, and named it the Lulworth Skipper, that the discovery was announced in print.

The female (pictured above) is quite recognisable from the pale orange crescent on her forewings, which is either lacking or very feint in the male. The male is generally darker in colour and has a distinctive sex brand on its forewings. As its name suggests, the distribution of this species is centred around Lulworth in Dorset, between Weymouth and the Isle of Purbeck. Colonies are most often encountered on south-facing, sheltered slopes, on chalk or limestone grassland, where tall patches of Tor-grass (Brachypodium pinnatum), its larval foodplant, can be found. In Britain, this species is at the northern limit of its range and is rarely found more than 5 miles from the coast.

The above images, in descending order, show (i and ii) a female on its larval foodplant, (iii) a freshly laid batch of eight eggs in the dried stem of B. pinnatum, (iv) typical acteon habitat overlooking Lulworth Cove with B. pinnatum in the foreground and (v) the view looking towards the northwest from its home on Bindon Hill.

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