The skippers are small, fast-flying, mostly drab, moth-like butterflies. The majority of the 25 or so species found in the western Alps are extremely similar in their colouring and the variability of their white markings and provide probably the hardest identification challenge among the European butterflies.
Dingy Skipper is one of the commonest and most widespread of the European skippers. There are a few other species that have similar forewing markings, but Dingy Skipper is easily separated from them by the plain brown upper hindwing that has a row of small white spots near the margin of the hindwing.
The pattern of white spots on the upperside of the hindwing of Red Underwing Skipper is subtly distinctive. This species is relatively small, even compared to other skippers, and its habit of flying fast close to the ground can make it difficult to detect at times.
The grizzled skippers are a difficult group to identify, but subtle differences in their upperwing (and underwing if you are lucky enough to see it) do allow identification of most individuals.
The degree of contrast and pattern of the hindwing markings are an important feature in identifying some of the species. Oberthur's Grizzled Skipper tends to have quite contrasty, pale, diffuse markings in comparison to others (eg. Alpine Grizzled Skipper or Large Grizzled Skipper).
Alpine Grizzled Skipper can be separated from all other European skippers by the presence of 3 spots in a line about halfway along the rear margin of the hindwing. It also has an almost unmarked hindwing even compared to the very worn Oberthur's Grizzled Skipper shown above.
Large Grizzled Skipper has similar hindwing markings to Alpine Grizzled Skipper but lack the 3 spots on the forewing mentioned above.
Southern Grizzled Skipper is often regarded as a double-brooded subspecies of Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus malvae) and the two are inseperable in their external morphology. Their internal genitalia, however, do show subtle differences. Identification in the field is only possible in places where their ranges do not overlap.
About 15 species of "whites" occur in the Western Alps and some of these are high altitude specialists.
Two examples of these are the Dark-veined White (also sometimes known as the Mountain Green-veined White) and Mountain Small White. Both these species are usually only found above 800m altitude and may be found as high as 2700m.
The identification of Wood White and Real's Wood White is a well known problem and there are no consistant differences between external morphological features that can allow confident identification.
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