08 Aug 2022

Kildare's Wildlife Watch: The drab little dingy skipper, a moth or a butterfly?

Wildlife Watch with the Irish Peatland Conservation Council

Kildare's Wildlife Watch: The drab little dingy skipper, a moth or a butterfly?

The dingy skipper. Picture: Nuala Madigan

Have you ever heard the theory that the best way to identify between a butterfly and a moth is by colour? Butterflies are typically associated with bright colours while moths are associated with dull colours.

However, this is not always the case. The elephant hawk moth is pink in colour and this week’s species, the dingy skipper (Donnán as Gaeilge) butterfly is brown and grey in colour. So not all butterflies are bright in hue. The dingy skipper can be seen in flight from the end of April to June each year, so now is the ideal time to watch for it in your community. It is a relatively small butterfly with a wingspan of 2.8 to 3.4cm. Compare this to the small tortoiseshell of a few weeks ago, which had a wingspan on 5cm. This particular butterfly can be found in a variety of habitats, including woodland clearings, coastal areas, quarries, bogs, and waste ground.

Similar to all butterflies, the ideal time to observe it in your community is between 11am to 4pm on calm, sunny days. The butterfly lays its eggs on birds-foot trefoil or vetch species towards the end of May, and caterpillars can be observed from August.

The caterpillar will overwinter before pupating in early April, with the first of the adult butterflies emerging on the wing later that month. You will observe this butterfly flying low to the ground, and when observed on a flower head it is restless and may quickly dart away.

Another way often suggested to tell the difference between butterflies and moths is their flight times. It is often said that butterflies fly during calm, sunny days while moths are nocturnal — again this is not true as there are many species of day-flying moths, including the hummingbird hawk moth.

If we cannot identify between butterflies and moths based on colour or flight time, how can we? I suggest the best way to identify between these species is how they hold their wings while at rest. Butterflies have the ability to close they wings together above their bodies, while moths cannot and rest with their wings flat on either side of their body.

If you would like help identifying or to learn more about a wildlife species contact me via email at

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