other pollinators

What to do with all that tongue?

The woodland skipper, Ochlodes sylvanoides, is a common pollinator of late summer and early fall. It can be identified easily by its brown and orange coloring and its fast and erratic flight pattern.

The skippers belong to the order Lepidoptera and the family Hesperiidae. Worldwide there are about 3500 species of skipper, of which about 250 live in North America. Although they are often labeled butterflies, skippers actually show traits of both butterflies and moths. For example, they have thick, hairy bodies like moths, but knobby antennae like butterflies. Their wings, too, are a combination of both.  Skippers hold their hind wings flat like moths and their fore wings up like butterflies. Go figure.

The most fascinating part of a skipper, however, is its tongue. It is actually a proboscis, a tongue-like appendage designed for sucking the nectar from plants—much like that of a honey bee—except much longer and more slender. When I first saw the tongue of a skipper, I wondered how it could possibly be stored when not in use! It is very, very long.

It turns out I could see much better through the camera lens. Look carefully at the photos below and you can see how the skipper coils up its tongue like a garden hose. What a brilliant idea! No knots, no tangles, and all ready for the next meal.


Skipper with tongue all coiled up. Photo by the author.

Skipper uncoiling its tongue. Photo by the author.

Skipper inserting tongue into tiny flower. Photo by the author.

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