The long-tailed skipper is a butterfly that can be seen in all of Georgia’s 159 counties. Although it can be seen from April into November throughout much of the state, in my backyard, I see more long-tailed skippers from late summer into the autumn than at any other time of the year. Since it is so common and seen over such an extended period, one might think all of these butterflies live and die in the Peach State. Actually, many do. However, some have wanderlust.
For reasons that are not fully understood, during the summer some long-tailed skippers take wing and move northward. These movements are particularly common along the Coastal Plain. As a result, before cold weather sets in long-tailed skippers are sometimes spotted as far north as southern New England.
Far more often, however, each fall far more long-tailed skippers will fly south to the peninsula of Florida. Here in Georgia some longtails are considered permanent residents, particularly in the southeast corner of the state.
In spring, long-tailed skipper populations in Florida begin moving northward and eventually end up in our backyard gardens.
I suspect many of the long-tailed skippers I am currently seeing in my backyard are en route to the Sunshine State. Meanwhile, for the past several weeks, long-tailed skippers are the butterflies I have most often seen visiting ageratum, butterfly bush, zinnias and other fall-blooming plants. This is the first autumn I can remember when I have seen more long-tailed skippers than cloudless sulphurs in my yard. I suspect our prolonged drought has played a role in this situation.
In the meantime, since I am not seeing any migratory songbirds in my yard, and most other butterflies such as eastern tiger swallowtails have disappeared; long-tailed skippers have added an appreciated touch of beauty to a backyard that has suffered immensely from a lack of rainfall.