Most people are comfortable differentiating butterflies and moths. However, as with most biological groupings, especially those based more on appearance and habits than taxonomy, exceptions and ambiguities run rampant. One particular example, is that of the ‘skipper.’ Perhaps this common name is, in fact, commonly used by other laypeople, but I had never heard of it when I entered entomology. If I had seen a skipper in the field, I would probably have assumed it was a moth still out in the daylight, or a somewhat odd and drab little butterfly.
In fact, skippers are a subgroup of butterflies, comprising the family Hesperiidae. They resemble a cross between a moth and a butterfly, but can be easily recognized by several features. They have large, wideset eyes on a broad head, one of the characteristics that lends them a moth-like appearance. Their antennae are also widely set, not meeting at the base, and have hooked clubs at the ends. Their stocky bodies tend to be fairly fuzzy or fluffy looking and they have drab to moderately bright coloration.
Skippers are active in the day time, and take their common name from their quick, short flying style. Many species look quite similar to each other and can be difficult to distinguish. These butterflies are both extremely common and widespread. I took the photo above of a skipper in Argentina, while the mating pair below I spotted in the Welder Wildlife Refuge in Texas.