The Fiery Skipper, Hylephila phyleus, is one of the grass skippers. Larvae feed on grass and can cause brown spots in lawns. It is primarily a pest in states with warm winter temperatures. Damage is common enough that University of California, Davis has an information bulletin on managing the caterpillars (Plant grass they don’t like.).
Ernest Shull, the author of the authoritative book, Butterflies of Indiana, included the Fiery Skipper in his 1969 list of Uncommon Butterflies of Northeast Indiana*. The species is not common here because it is sensitive to cold winters. This year (2012), however, the Fiery Skipper is common in Tippecanoe County.
In 2012, we had practically no snow and mild winter temperatures. The summer has been blazing hot with July 2012 setting all time temperature records in Tippecanoe County. These conditions are favorable to species that do not typically extend this far North. As the climate warms, we can expect more Southern species of insects to extend their range to the North.
I spotted a flock of Fiery Skippers nectaring on flowers. These skippers dart from flower to flower. Males will chase and fight with other male skippers. Art Shapiro calls the fiery skipper,
California’s most urban butterfly, almost limited to places where people mow lawns.
Species of the Genus Hylephila other than the Fiery Skipper, are located in South America. However, the current range of the Fiery Skipper extends far beyond its ancestral South American home to much of North America. Fiery Skipper is found in the Hawaiian Islands where it is a pest of turf grass. Its known host plants in the US are grasses that are not native to the US. This suggests that the Fiery Skipper is perhaps a more recent addition to North America.*Price and Shull, 1969. J Lepidopterists Society. 23:186-188.