Skippers: Yuma skipper (Ochlodes yuma)
(Lepidoptera: Hesperiidae: Hesperiinae)
Profile prepared by The Xerces Society
Heritage Global Rank: G5
Heritage State Rank: Arizona (SNR), California (S3), Colorado (S2S3), Nevada (SNR), New Mexico (SNR), Oregon (S1?), Utah (SNR), Washington (S1), Wyoming (SNR) State Candidate Species in WA.
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O. yuma is larger, brighter, and plainer than any other Northwest hesperiine skippers and is normally found only in association in or near beds of giant reed. Butterfly field guides (such as Pyle 2002) are probably the best source of pictorial “keys” and it is best to refer to a butterfly guide when trying to identify this species.
Ochlodes yuma is a large, < 1.75”, tawny skipper with few obvious markings. Males have a narrow, indistinct black margin on the outer edge of both wings dorsally and a long, narrow black stigma on the dorsal fore wing. Females are similar but lack the stigma and may have pale spotbands and black basal smudges on their ventral hind wing (Pyle, 2002, Pyle personal communication, and Pelham personal communication).
Several subspecies of O. yuma occur including O. yuma anasazi (New Mexico), O. yuma lutea (Nevada and Oregon), O. yuma yuma (California), and O. yuma sacramentorum (California).
The Yuma skipper may be confused with the Woodland Skipper (O. sylvanoides bonnevilla) which is relatively plain on the ventral surface and can occupy some of the same habitat; however O. yuma is 1.5 to 2 times larger then O. sylvanoides bonnevilla, is less heavily marked, has narrower stigmata, and typically has an earlier flying period (Pyle, 2002).
Ochlodes yuma (Edwards, 1873). Commonly known as the Yuma Skipper or Giant-reed Skipper.
In Oregon and Washington O. yuma has one flight period from early July to early September, peaking in August (Pyle, 2002).
Ochlodes yuma is found around reed beds in and around freshwater marshes, streams, oases, ponds, seeps, sloughs, springs, and canals (Pyle 2002 and Opler et al. 2006). It is closely associated with its primary, known host plant Phragmites australis (giant or common reed). P. australis is sometimes treated as a synonym of P. communis. There are two strains of P. australis in the Pacific Northwest, one native and one non-native. It is assumed that O. yuma populations are associated with native genotypes of P. australis but the extent that O. yuma may also use the non-native P. australis strain as a larval host plant is not currently known (Warren 2005). Pyle (2002) noted adults in a small population of O. yuma in Klickitat County, Washington were associated with an ornamental grass (Miscanthus spp.).
Males often perch on P. australis awaiting females. Females deposit their eggs on or near the host plant. The eggs of O. yuma are light green and caterpillar colors are variable and range from light green to tan. The caterpillar head varies from cream to tan and is bisected by a darker brown vertical stripe. Caterpillars feed on P. australis. They also roll up leaves of their host plants to use as shelters (Allen, et al. 2005; Pyle, 2002; Opler, et al. 2006).
Adults nectar on a variety of flowers including thistles and yellow composites (Pyle, 2002).
At the species level O. yuma is common in its limited habitat (areas with its host plant) in California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, northern New Mexico, Arizona, and in isolated areas in Oregon and Washington. Oregon and Washington represent the northern end of the Yuma skipper’s range. Until 1984 it was known no farther north than Nevada. In 1984 Jonathan Pelham discovered a colony at the Sun Lakes State Park in Grant County Washington. Ray Albright found one colony north of Imnaha in Wallowa County, Oregon in 1985 and another near Summer Lake Oregon in 1986 (Pyle 2002). The butterfly has also been found near the Deschutes River at I-84 in Wasco and Sherman County Oregon. In 2002 the first record of O. yuma in Idaho was confirmed (Warren 2005).
In Oregon O. yuma is known from three widely separated areas. First, it is locally common near Summer Lake in Lake County. Second, it is commonly found along the Imnaha River in Wallowa County. Third, it is found along the lower Columbia River in Wasco, Sherman, and Hood River counties. (Warren, 2005 and Pyle, 2002).
According to a Forest Service website O. yuma is also known from Klamath county near the Fremont-Winema National Forests; however there are no records to support this assertion (Ross personal communication).
In Washington, O. yuma is known from the Sun Lakes below Dry Falls in Lower Grand Coulee in Grant County, and an isolated colony in eastern Klickitat County in gardens behind Maryhill mansion (Warren, 2005 and Pyle, 2002).
According to Pyle (2002) northwest colonies of Yuma Skipper are best referred to as O.y. lutea although Warren (2005) has found significant variation between individuals from different sites.
As a species O. yuma is widely distributed and relatively secure (Opler, et al. 2006). However in Oregon and Washington it is known from only a few populations in three widely separated areas. Site specific threats are unknown but general threats include loss of wetland habitats to urban or agricultural uses, pesticide spraying (especially the use of organophosphates and pyrethroids for mosquito control), and grazing damage to wetland habitat. There is a question about the ability of O. yuma to use the non-native strain of P. australis; if O. yuma are unable to utilize the non-native strain of P. australis, then the colonization of O. yuma habitat by non-native strains of P. australis would likely be a threat to this skipper. However, O. y. sacramentorum is known to use the non-native strain of P. australis (Pelham personal communication).
Avoid disturbing established beds of the native P. australis at known sites of O. yuma.
Discourage pesticide application on or near occupied habitat; if spraying is unavoidable, take precautions to limit inadvertent spray onto individual adults or larvae.
Surveys for O. yuma are encouraged (Warren 2005) along the Snake River in Baker and Malheur counties, in the Owyhee River canyon of Malheur County, along the John Day River, and along the Columbia River east of Sherman County in order to more accurately identify its range.
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Brock, Jim P. and Kenn Kaufman. 2003. Butterflies of North America. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, NY. 384 pp.
NatureServe. 2007. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Version 6.2. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia. Available (Accessed: August 27, 2007 ).
Opler, Paul A., Harry Pavulaan, Ray E. Stanford, Michael Pogue, coordinators. 2006. Butterflies and Moths of North America. Bozeman, MT: Mountain Prairie Information Node (Version 08292007)
Opler, P. A. and A. B.Wright. 1999. A Field Guide to the Western Butterflies. Second Edition. Peterson Field Guide Series. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, New York, USA, 540 pp.
Pyle, Robert Michael. 2002. The Butterflies of Cascadia, A Field Guide to All the Species of Washington, Oregon, and Surrounding Territories. Seattle Audubon Society, Seattle, Washington. 420 pp.
Scott, J. A. 1986. The Butterflies of North America. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, USA, 583 pp.
Scott, J.A., O. Shields, and S.L. Ellis. 1977. Distribution and Biology of a Pleistocene Relict: Ochlodes Yuma (Hesperiidae). Journal of the Lepidopterists’ Society 31(1): 17-22.
Warren, Andrew D. 2005. Lepidoptera of North America 6, Butterflies of Oregon: Their Taxonomy, Distribution, and Biology. Department of Zoology, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon.