Mystery Hesperilla underside

What the hell is this?

Ross McLaren recently sent me these photos of a skipper he caught in Far North Queensland, the identity of which is something of a mystery to both Ross and myself :

Mystery Hesperilla upperside
Mystery Hesperilla upperside
Mystery Hesperilla underside
Mystery Hesperilla underside

Given the location, the only thing that fits is Hesperilla ornata monotherma, the northern subspecies of the Spotted Sedge-skipper. The problem with that identification, of course, is the fact that this butterfly doesn’t look much like monotherma at all.

The specimen is a female; females of monotherma have greatly reduced spots on the upperside, whilst this specimen’s spots are more like those of  the southern subspecies H. ornata ornata. The underside doesn’t look much like that of any ornata I’ve ever seen.

I don’t have any photos of the monotherma subspecies; I’ve only ever seen one and I accidentally disturbed it before I got close enough for a photo. What can I say; I’m a clumsy ox. So for comparison, I’ve embedded images of female H. o. monotherma on Geoff Walker’s wonderful Australian Butterflies Photographed website. If you aren’t familiar with Geoff’s site you should have a look around; he has over 400 species (100 ahead of me), many of which make me very jealous indeed!

So the question is, is this butterfly simply an aberrant specimen of Hesperilla ornata monotherma, or has Ross stumbled across a new subspecies, or even a new species?  He plans to return to the location to see if he can find any more of these mystery skippers.

If you have any thoughts on this, the Comments section is just below (hint hint!).

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3 thoughts on “What the hell is this?”

  1. Alan Hopkinson

    What a strange looking Skipper, almost looks like a cross between Hesperilla ornata and Oreisplanus munionga. I think it must an aberration of H.ornata monotherm.
    A nice looking bug.

  2. Difficult to answer your question. Some H. o.montherma have more forewing spotting than the live specimen you have posted a picture of, but I have not seen any like the specimen in question. It would be interesting to know whether the mounted specimen was captured within the known range of ssp. monotherma and whether other H. ornata type specimens were captured with it. It should be easy enough to find larvae/ pupae at the site to get more specimens. H ornata early stages are reasonably easy to find.

    1. I don’t know the precise location, I just have a rough idea. Based on the distribution map in the 2nd edition of Braby’s Field Guide I’d guess it’s just about within the range of monotherma.

      Ross didn’t see any other Hesperillas at all that day; the one he captured just happened to land right in front of him. That’s what makes me think it’s maybe not an aberration. Since aberrations are so rare, the chances of only seeing one butterfly and it just happens to be aberrant ought to be very slim. But stranger things have happened. Apparently it was in a rather isolated patch of habitat, which also has one or two other unusual-looking butterflies. I’m looking forward to seeing if Ross finds any more of these skippers when he returns.

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