Alabama Butterfly Atlas

Butterfly: Wingspan: 2 1/5 to  4 1/2 inches (7.9-14 cm). Males are large yellow-and-black striped butterflies.  On the upper surface, the yellow is bright while the underside is paler.  A broad black border on both wings contains a row of yellow spots and crescents.  Males have very little blue coloration on the hindwing.  In Alabama, most females are black rather than yellow, although yellow forms occur.  In dark females, the yellow background scales are replaced with charcoal or light black scales: however, the “tiger stripes” can still be distinguished.  Occasionally aberrations occur, and females may exhibit a peppering of both yellow and black. Regardless of background coloration, females have a much broader band of blue on their hindwings than males.

Egg: Eggs are greenish-yellow globes and are deposited singly, usually on the upper surface of a host plant leaf.

Caterpillar: Young caterpillars are brownish-black with a white “saddle”  which makes them resemble bird droppings.  Later instars are bright green with small eyespots behind the true head, enabling them to resemble a snake. Immediately before pupation, caterpillar color changes from green to brown.

Chrysalis: The chrysalis is either mottled brown or green, depending on the time of year and the structure to which it is attached. Brown chrysalides usually occur in the fall and overwinter.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtails are among Alabama’s most common and familiar butterflies. They fly throughout the state and are on the wing spring, summer, and fall. The first brood emerges early in the spring, and female-seeking males are common sights as they search by soaring up, over, and through trees.  They are also frequent members of “puddle clubs”, where they congregate to sip salts from roads and stream banks. 

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is Alabama’s official state butterfly. Mallieve Breeding, Selma’s beloved “Butterfly Lady” led the effort to convince the state legislature to choose Eastern Tiger Swallowtail rather than the Monarch. She declared that Monarchs only passed through Alabama on their way to somewhere else, while Eastern Tigers choose to live here.

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: Autauga, Baldwin, Barbour, Bibb, Blount, Bullock, Calhoun, Chambers, Chambers , Cherokee, Chilton, Clay, Cleburne, Colbert, Conecuh, Coosa, Covington, Crenshaw, Cullman, Dale, Dallas, DeKalb, Elmore, Escambia, Etowah, Fayette, Geneva, Greene, Hale, Jackson, Jefferson, Lamar, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Lee, Limestone, Lowndes, Macon, Madison, Marengo, Marion, Marshall, Mobile, Monroe, Perry, Pickens, Pike, Randolph, Shelby, St. Clair, Sumter, Talladega, Tallapoosa, Tuscaloosa, Walker, Washington, Winston

  • 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 11 37 140 245 246 220 230 200 42 105 28 61 78 42 38 70 42 130 49 96 81 101 148 198 66 27 19 32 5 1

Habitat

Look for Eastern Tiger Swallowtails in or near deciduous woodlands as well as home landscapes and gardens.

Host and Nectar Plants

Host plants verified in Alabama are: Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) and Sweet Bay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana), and Black Cherry (Prunus serotina).

Eastern Tiger Swallowtails are also reported to use ashes (Fraxinus spp.), and Wafer Ash (Ptelea trifoliata).

 

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

Landscaping Ideas

The documented host plants are tall trees, and your landscape may already contain mature specimens. However, females sometimes deposit eggs on saplings, so even small sites can include host plants for Eastern Tiger Swallowtails. Depending on your region, planting either young Tulip Poplars, Sweet Bay Magnolias, or Black Cherries may benefit Eastern Tiger Swallowtails. 

Swallowtails are avid nectarers and are especially attracted to native wildflowers such as milkweeds (Asclepias spp.), Joe Pye Weeds (Eutrochium spp.), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), blazing stars (Liatris spp.), and phloxes (Phlox spp.).  Flowering trees and shrubs such as Chickasaw and American Plum (Prunus angustifolia and P. americana), Coastal Sweet Pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia) and native azaleas (Rhododendron spp.) are also important nectar sources.