Alabama Butterfly Atlas

Butterfly: Wingspan: 1¾–2½ inches (4.5-6.35 cm). Adults are orange above and brown below. Both sexes have a dark spot on the forewing's upperside. Males have a dark margin; females have a wide yellow-orange submarginal band (just inside the outer edge) bordered by darker scales. The winter form of both sexes is more boldly marked, the forewings are more pointed, and the tails are longer. Adults overwinter.

ID Tip: Hooked forewing. Orange open wings.  Leaf-like closed wings.  Short tails. Wing edges smooth

Egg: Creamy.  Usually laid on the underside of a croton leaf.

Caterpillar: Grayish-green with small raised dots; head grayish-green with small protuberances. Tapers near the end. Young caterpillars create frass chains on tips of host plant leaves. Late stage caterpillars roll a leaf lengthwise, making a loose tube-like shelter where they rest and hide when not eating.  

Chrysalis: Chunky, green.  Often suspended from a host plant leaf or stem.

Goatweed Leafwings have dead-leaf mimicry down to an art.  When perched on tree trunks, their subtly patterned underwings render them invisible.  They even resemble falling leaves—if frightened, they may drop to the ground and remain motionless. When taking flght, a sudden flash of their orange upper surface is guaranteed to startle predators (and butterfly watchers). 

Goatweed Leafwing are named for their leaf-mimicking wings and for their host plant choice--"goatweeds" aka "crotons."  Various goatweed species are found throughout Alabama and so are Goatweed Leafwings.  An ovipositing female places one large egg on a croton leaf tip, sometimes depositing several on one plant.  Newly emerged larvae construct frass chains, curious structures devised by chewing away leaf material to leave only the midrib and then sticking frass (dung) pellets to its tip in order to lengthen it.  Tiny caterpillars rest at the very end, where they appear to be extensions of their frass chains.  Older larvae outgrow these appendages and move on to new leaves that they roll into tight tubes.  When venturing out to eat, their gray-green color and minute silvery dots blend perfectly with croton foliage and stems.  Chrysalides also mimic leaves, often dangling from croton stems.

Goatweed Leafwings overwinter as adults, surfacing only on warm days.  The overwintering generation exhibits brighter color and more exaggerated shape than the summer brood.  Since their short proboscises prevent them from gaining access to most flower nectar, leafwings typically gain nourishment from overripe fruit, sap flows, and carrion.

Distribution and Abundance

A dot on the county map indicates that there is at least one documented record of the species within that county. In some cases, a species may be common throughout the county, in others it may be found in only a specific habitat.

The sightings bar graphs depict the timing of flight(s) within each of three geographic regions. Place your cursor on a bar within the graph to see the number of individuals recorded during that period.

The abundance calendar displays the total number of individuals recorded within each week of the month. Both the graphs and the calendar are on based data collection that began in 2000.

The records analyzed here are only a beginning. As more data is collected, these maps and graphs will paint a more accurate picture of distribution and abundance in Alabama. Submit your sightings to albutterflyatlas@gmail.com.

Sightings in the following counties: Baldwin, Barbour, Bibb, Blount, Colbert, Covington, Dallas, DeKalb, Elmore, Fayette, Franklin, Hale, Jackson, Jefferson, Lawrence, Marion, Marshall, Mobile, Monroe, Perry, Shelby, Sumter, Tuscaloosa, Washington, Winston

  • Sightings in the past 5 years
  • Sightings in the past 5 - 10 years
  • Sightings more than 10 years ago
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
6 18 14 18 21 30 13 11 6 7 3 8 1 3 2 2 3 9 3 2 2 2 16 5 1 3 37 5 2 5 1

Habitat

Dry, open woods and scrub. Fields, pastures, and other open, disturbed areas

Host and Nectar Plants

Various crotons (Croton spp.) are widely reported throughout the range. 

These host plants have been verified in Alabama: Wooly Croton (Croton capitatus), Prairie Tea (Croton monanthogynus).

For more information about the documented host plants and/or nectar plants, please visit the Alabama Plant Atlas using the following links:

Landscaping Ideas

Including crotons in the landscape can provide host plants for Goatweed Leafwings if they are in the area.  Wooly Croton is attractive, and easy to grow from seed, but will aggressively reseed, and is considered by some to be invasive.  In a planned landscape, make sure to give it room and to place it where it can be controlled.