Thymelicus sylvestris | Small Skipper | Léimneoir beag

Pre 2017

2017 - 2021


Conservation status

Ireland: Not assessed, recently established (Regan et al., 2010)
Europe: Least Concern (van Swaay et al., 2010)
Climate risk category: Potential Climate Change Risk; present distribution in Europe can be explained by climate to only a limited extent (Settele et al., 2008)

Legal status

The Small Skipper is not afforded legal protection in Ireland.

Native status


Species Biology


Key identification features include:

  • Small size, wingspan: 27 - 34 mm
  • Upperside of the wings bright orange with black markings; males with distinct black line on forewing
  • Antennal tip orange beneath


Generalist, found on unimproved dry grassland and field margins. It was first recorded in Kildare in 2006 and this population is currently the only known established population in Ireland. Adults exhibit a strong preference for sheltered, sunny areas containing tall grassland with abundant flowers.  Lower numbers are found in open areas exposed to the wind (Harding & Jacob, 2013).

Flight period

Univoltine: June to August.

Life cycle

As many as eight eggs may be laid in a row inside a leaf sheath of the foodplant. The larva are non-gregarious and believed to emerge from in mid-April. The larva forms a tube by spinning together the edges of a leaf and feeds within the tube. As it grows larger, the larva feeds outside the tube, leaving characteristics notches in the grass blade. The larva will move to new leaves, creating new suitably-sized tubes, as needed. Pupation occurs at the base of the foodplant and this species overwinters as a pupa.

Food plants

Specialist, in Ireland, given it's recent establishment, the only recorded larval foodplant is Yorkshire-fog (Holcus lanatus).  In Britain, Creeping Soft-grass (Holcus mollis), False Brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum), Meadow Foxtail (Alopecurus pratensis) and Timothy (Phleum pratense) are also used.

Flowers visited

Generalist, adult nectar sources include: Bird's-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), Bramble (Rubus fruticosus), Dandelion (Taraxacum agg.), Devil's-bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis), Fleabane (Pulicaria dysenterica), Knapweeds (Centaurea spp.), Marjoram (Origanum vulgare), Red Clover (Trifolium pratense), Thistles (Cirsium spp. and Carduus spp.) and Vetches (Vicia spp.).


World distribution(GBIF)

Temporal change

Records submitted to Data Centre in 2021

The following map is interactive. If you would prefer to view it full screen then click here.



Harding, J. and Jacob, M. 2013. Addition of Small Skipper butterfly (Thymelicus sylvestris) to the Irish list and notes on the Essex Skipper (Thymelicus lineola)(Lepidoptera: Hesperiidae). Irish Naturalists' Journal 32(2): 142-144.

Regan, E.C., Nelson, B., Aldwell, B., Bertrand, C., Bond, K., Harding, J., Nash, D., Nixon, D. and Wilson, C.J. 2010. Ireland Red List No. 4 – Butterflies. National Parks and Wildlife Service, Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Ireland.

Settele, J., Kudrna, O., Harpke, A., Kühn, I., Van Swaay, C., Verovnik, R., Warren, M.S., Wiemers, M., Hanspach, J., Hickler, T. and Kühn, E. 2008. Climatic risk atlas of European butterflies. Sofia-Moscow: Pensoft.

Van Swaay, C., Cuttelod, A., Collins, S., Maes, D., López Munguira, M., Šašic, M., Settele, J., Verovnik, R., Verstrael, T., Warren, M., Wiemers, M. and Wynhof, I. 2010. European Red List of Butterflies. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.