E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Wildlife of British Columbia

Carterocephalus palaemon Lederer, 1852
Arctic Skipper
Family: Hesperiidae (Skippers)
Species account authors: Crispin Guppy and Jon Shepard.
Extracted from Butterflies of British Columbia
The Families of Lepidoptera of BC
Introduction to the Butterflies of BC

© Jeremy Gatten  Email the photographer   (Photo ID #5977)

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Distribution of Carterocephalus palaemon in British Columbia.
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Species Information


The Arctic Skipper is easy to identify by the tan and black checkered wing pattern.

Immature Stages

Fletcher (1889b) reared the species to mature larvae. The eggs were pale green and round. The mature larvae were 1.12 inches (2.8 cm) in length. The colour was pale green, with white lateral stripes on the abdomen. The prothorax is not heavily sclerotized as in some other skipper larvae.


Previous authorities have treated BC populations as part of the widely distributed North American subspecies C.p. mandan (W.H. Edwards, 1863) (TL: Pine Ridge, MB). The only BC populations that appear to be of this subspecies are those in the Peace River canyon. Other northern populations have a darker ground colour on the ventral hindwing and are subspecies C.m. skada (W.H. Edwards, 1870) (TL: Kodiak, AK). This subspecies is found in Alaska, the Yukon, and northern BC. Mattoon and Tilden (1998) incorrectly apply this name to the rest of BC and south to Colorado. The central and southern BC populations are larger, with relatively larger tan spots in the checkered pattern. The first two spots of the submarginal row of spots are also elongated, a character that separates them from all other subspecies. The newly described subspecies C.m. magnus Mattoon & Tilden, 1998 is the correct name for the subspecies from northern California north to central BC, and the subspecies is not restricted to northern California as the authors thought (Mattoon and Tilden 1998).

Genus Description

The name Carterocephalus is derived from the Greek karteros (strong) and kephale (head), referring to the wide head (Emmet 1991). There does not seem to be a common name for the genus.


Adults are found flying from early May to early August, depending on elevation and latitude. There is no evidence of a second brood. The eggs hatch within two weeks of being laid and develop to mature larvae by fall. Presumably the mature larva is the overwintering stage. This species has not been reared in BC or elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest. Garth and Tilden (1986) report purple reed grass (Calamagrostis purpurascens) as the foodplant. In Europe it has been reared on Bromus sp. (Higgins and Riley 1970).


The Arctic Skipper is known from all parts of BC that have been surveyed, but it is never an abundant species. Usually it is found in moist, open meadows along streams in the south, often in association with Clossiana epithore or C. selene.



The Arctic Skipper is Holarctic and is found across boreal North America from central AK to NF and south to northern CA, northwestern WY, and New England. Despite the common name, it is primarily a boreal species, at least in BC.

Status Information

Scientific NameOrigin StatusProvincial StatusBC List
(Red Blue List)
Carterocephalus palaemonNativeS5YellowNot Listed
Carterocephalus palaemon magnusNativeS5YellowNot Listed
Carterocephalus palaemon mandanNativeS2RedNot Listed
Carterocephalus palaemon skadaNativeS5YellowNot Listed
BC Ministry of Environment: BC Species and Ecosystems Explorer--the authoritative source for conservation information in British Columbia.

Additional Range and Status Information Links

Additional Photo Sources

General References

Recommended citation: Author, Date. Page title. In Klinkenberg, Brian. (Editor) 2019. E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Fauna of British Columbia [efauna.bc.ca]. Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. [Accessed: 2020-05-28 6:16:30 PM]
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