Alabama Butterfly Atlas

Butterfly: Wingspan 1 1/4-1 3/4 inches (3.2-4.4 cm). On upper surface, male is white with dark gray markings on the forewing.  Female is grayish white with extensive dark checkers on both wings.  On underwing surfaces, the hindwings are white with gray markings and some yellow scaling along the veins. These butterflies are seasonably variable.  Late season individuals are more heavily marked.

ID Tip: Both sexes display gray-black checks on upper (dorsal) surfaces

Egg: Eggs are pale yellow/orange spindles.

Caterpillar: Green, alternately striped with yellow, dark green, and purple.  The caterpillar is covered with black tubercles (small rounded projections), and the head is bluish gray.

Chrysalis: Gray/green with black speckles  over the body.  There is a red-and-yellow dorsal ridge and two yellow lateral ridges that run along the abdomen.

Checkered Whites are sun-loving, nectar-drinking, habitat generalists, yet their populations have declined dramatically over the past 50 years.  Their presence on a field trip checklist in Alabama is always a good get, although they tend to be more common in coastal counties.  There is no obvious reason for their scarcity, although Cabbage Whites are often blamed.  These nonnative butterflies swept through North America in the nineteenth century, and they have been viewed as competitors for the same host plants and habitats.  Yet Cabbage Whites typically choose cultivated mustard-family host plants like cabbage and broccoli while Checkered Whites are more likely to use wild and weedy mustards like Poorman's Pepperwort.

Checkered Whites' host plant needs may partially explain their scarcity. Their major hosts are early succession annuals that quickly move in to colonize open, disturbed ground but just as quickly disappear as more permanent vegetation takes hold.  The butterflies must become opportunistic gypsies, constantly on the move, in search of the next patch of weedy plants that will provide food for their caterpillars. Although they often seem to be here today, gone tomorrow, home-base populations do exist.  Checkered Whites should be sought in large fields and pastures that contain their hosts. In Baldwin County, they sometimes fly in the vicinity of both Great Southern and Cabbage Whites.

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, Chilton, Colbert, Covington, Franklin, Jackson, Lawrence, Limestone, Madison, Mobile, Perry, Pike, Sumter

  • 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
1 1 1 4 3 9 1 1 4 21 3 17 1 1 2 1 3 3

Habitat

Open spaces.  Dry, weedy areas. Flowering fields. These are often “disturbed” areas.

Host and Nectar Plants

Poorman’s Pepperwort/Virginia Peppergrass (Lepidium virginicum) has been documented in Alabama.

Weedy members of the Mustard family (Brassicaceae) that include Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) and Common Winter Cress (Barbarea vulgaris) are reported.

 

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

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