Alabama Butterfly Atlas

Butterfly:  Wingspan is 1 1/2  to 2 inches (3.8-4.1 cm). A relatively large, easily-recognized skipper because of the presence of two long (one-half inch) tails extending from the hindwings. The upperside of both fore- and hindwings is largely brown which contrasts with the iridescent blue-green of the body and wing bases.  Several glassy white, somewhat squarish to hour-glass-shaped spots occur in the outer one-half of the forewing. The underside is brown with distinctive white spots in the forewing and dark bands and brownish blotches in the hindwing. The hindwing margins are bordered in white. The tails are dark brown to black.

ID Tip: Look for blue-green on upper surface.  Keep in mind that LTS's with missing tails may be confused with other species.

Egg:  Females lay pale yellow eggs either singly or in groups on the underside of host leaves (usually legumes). 

Caterpillars: The caterpillar is yellow-green with a thin black middorsal line that runs from just behind the head to the tail end.  A broader subdorsal, yellow longitudinal stripe runs the length of the body. The russet to crimson colored head has a pair of red false eyespots.

Young caterpillars cut host leaves and fold them over into a tube-like structure. They extrude silken strands to hold the tube together. The larvae then use the tube as a retreat.  As they grow larger, they may tie several leaves together to form a larger tube retreat.

Chrysalis: The chrysalis is predominately brown with shadings of blue and yellow and a powdery white surface.

No other skipper in Alabama has iridescent blue-green on its upper wings and body! These flashy skippers avidly visit flowers for nectar, and often hang upside-down to feed.   In most years, Long-tails move into Alabama from Florida, usually appearing by early summer.  They colonize as far north as the New England States, where the arrival of cold weather sees them start a southward movement to warmer climates. They cannot tolerate freezing temperatures in any stage of their life cycle. Long-tailed Skippers overwinter as reproductively arrested adults in tropical and subtropical areas. It is likely that this widespread species will eventually be documented in every county in Alabama, where they are welcome and frequent garden visitors.

The Long-tailed Skipper is distributed from Argentina northward through Central America, the West Indies, and Mexico to southeastern Texas and along the Gulf coastal states to Florida. 

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 , Chilton, Choctaw, Clay, Cleburne, Coffee, Colbert, Conecuh, Crenshaw, Cullman, Dallas, DeKalb, Elmore, Escambia, Escambia , Geneva, Greene, Hale, Henry, Houston, Jackson, Jefferson, Lawrence, Lee, Limestone, Madison, Madison , Marengo, Marion, Marshall, Mobile, Monroe, Montgomery, Morgan, Perry, Pickens, Pike, Randolph, Shelby, St. Clair, Sumter, Talladega, Tallapoosa, Tuscaloosa, Washington, Wilcox, 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 1 1 1 25 1 1 20 7 26 5 10 29 31 24 107 45 73 51 52 65 238 26 25 9 5 3 8 1

Habitat

The Long-tailed Skipper prefers open, disturbed fields, roadsides, utility right-of-ways, forest edges, and suburban gardens.

Host and Nectar Plants

Spurred Butterfly Pea (Centrosema virginianum), American Wisteria (Wisteria frutescens), Chinese Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis), Thicket Bean (Phaseolus polystachios), and tick trefoils (Desmodium spp.) have been verified as host plants in Alabama.

Sources from other states report that larvae feed on leaves from many other legumes (Family Fabaceae) such as Hogpeanut (Amphicarpa bracteata), culinary green beans (Phaseolus spp), Soybean (Glycine max), and Butterfly Pea (Clitoria mariana).

Some sources suggest that the widespread cultivation of soybeans may be responsible for a resurgence of Long-tailed Skipper populations in the Northeast. 

Long-tailed Skippers nectar from a variety of plants.

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

Landscaping Ideas

Make sure that your landscape provides plenty of late summer and fall-blooming flowers for butterflies like Long-tailed Skippers.  These include: Joe Pye weeds; gayfeathers/blazing stars; Mistflower; ironweeds; asters; goldenrods.