Burnsius albezens

White Checkered Skipper

The white checkered skipper is one of the more common skippers in southern California. It flies most of the year, and there are records from every county; I've even seen one in my front yard in Long Beach. When they spread their wings, females appear a bit darker than the males due to the reduced size of the white "checks". The main food plant for their caterpillars is Sphaeralcea ambigua (desert mallow, apricot mallow), and this skipper will often be found wherever mallows are doing well. Larvae form a shelter in the leaf that gets larger as the caterpillar grows.

These often fly with other checkered skippers that use the same mallows as larval hosts. Small checkered skippers are much smaller, and unlikely to cause confusion. Northern white skipper females are similar, but with experience they aren't hard to tell apart. One thing to look for is the white area across the middle of the forewing, which tends to be continuous and solid white in ericetorum, but blocky and discontinuous in albezens. They may also fly with what is now called Burnsius communis, which is all but indistinguishable from albezens; males require genitalic examination, and females probably DNA testing.

Note that there have been name changes with this skipper, which was Pyrgus albescens not long ago. It was moved from the genus Pyrgus to Burnsius in 2019, and albescens became albezens in 2022. Why "albezens"? When the lectotype of albescens was subjected to genomic sequencing, it turned out to be misidentified - it was communis! So the name albescens no longer applies to what it always has, and is now a subspecies name under Burnsius communis for the Mexican subspecies. They then chose the phonetically similar albezens for this entity.*

* see Zhang, Cong, Burns, and Grishin. "Checking the checkered taxonomy of Plötz's checkered skippers (Hesperiidae: Pyrgini)." The Taxonomic Report of the International Lepidoptera Society 10(8).

Burnsius albezens - White Checkered-Skipper
This Burnsius albezens, or white checkered skipper, was resting on a dandylion flower on my front lawn just as rain was beginning to fall. I was shocked to see it at home: I'd never seen one of these anywhere I've lived, just out in rural areas. April 26, 2015.
Burnsius albezens - White Checkered-Skipper
A male white checkered skipper, Chandler Preserve, Palos Verdes in L.A. County, March 19, 2008.
Burnsius albezens - White Checkered-Skipper
A female white checkered skipper at Laguna Meadows, July 24, 2011. Their white areas are a bit diminished compared to the males.
Burnsius albezens - White Checkered-Skipper
A female Burnsius albezens on a hilltop above El Capitan State Beach in Santa Barbara Co., August 30, 2011.
Burnsius albezens - White Checkered-Skipper
Ventral view. From Satwiwa Cultural Center in the Santa Monica Mountains, Oct. 31, 2005.
Burnsius albezens - White Checkered-Skipper
... and an egg from the ovipositing female.
Caterpillar of Burnsius albezens - White Checkered-Skipper
Caterpillar on apricot mallow, June 23, 2020. I photographed several of these with Gordon Pratt supplying them for our Joshua Tree book.
Apricot mallow, larval host plant of Burnsius albezens - White Checkered-Skipper
Sphaeralcea ambigua is a common desert mallow with several species of skipper that feed on it. Flowers are usually this apricot color, but variety rosacea has pink flowers.

©Dennis Walker