Alabama Butterfly Atlas

Butterfly: Wingspan: 2 1/4 - 4 inches (5.7 - 10.1 cm).  Upperside is purple-black with a wide, bright yellow border on outer margins and a row of iridescent blue spots at the inner edge of the border. Short projections/tails on both wings.  Borders are irregular. Adults overwinter.

ID Tip: Open wings are dark with bright yellow borders and blue interior spots.

Egg: Tiny, pale green eggs are laid in groups of 30-50 that encircle a twig of the host plant.  

Caterpillar: Caterpillars are gregarious and live together in a communal web.  When alarmed, young caterpillars thrash and twitch in synchrony or drop en masse to the ground. Fully grown larvae are black with several rows of black bristles that cover the body.  A distinctive row of red spots extends down the middle of the back.  

Chrysalis: Tan or gray brown. Hangs upside down with two horn-like head projections, a "beak," and several thorny tubercles on the body.

Mourning Cloaks are among Alabama’s longest-lived butterfly species.  Adults spend winter months in hiding spots, sheltered from the elements.  They emerge on warm days to search for energy sources that include sap flows or carrion.  Worn survivors live well into spring, when they resume a normal lifestyle and produce the next generation.  Mourning Cloaks engage in mate location behavior known as hilltopping. Heading for the highest geographical point, they look for receptive members of the opposite sex.  Once mated, females retreat, but males often remain for days.  During spring, the Green Trail at Oak Mountain State Park is an excellent site to witness hilltopping Mourning Cloaks.

 Mourning Cloaks are strong fliers and are wanderers by nature. They are a holarctic species, and although they sometimes range into the Coastal Region, they are much more likely to be found in the upper two-thirds of the state.

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: Bibb, Cherokee, Chilton, Colbert, Dallas, Elmore, Jackson, Jefferson, Lawrence, Marshall, Monroe, Perry, Randolph, Shelby, Tuscaloosa

  • Sightings in the past 5 years
  • Sightings in the past 5 - 10 years
  • Sightings more than 10 years ago
County Distribution Map

View county names by moving the mouse over a county or view a map with county names

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
2 3 14 5 14 12 3 10 9 1 8 6 15 8 1 1 1

Habitat

Near deciduous woodlands, both upland and near water.

Host and Nectar Plants

Cottonwoods (Populus spp.), willows (Salix spp.), elms (Ulmus spp.), and hackberries  (Celtis spp.) are recorded in other areas. 

This host plant has been verified in Alabama: Willows (Salix sp.).

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

Landscaping Ideas

If your landscape includes a pond, lake, or stream, allowing willows to grow may encourage Mourning Cloaks as well as Viceroys to take up residency.