Alabama Butterfly Atlas

Butterfly: Wingspan 1 1/2 to 2 inches (3.8-5.1 cm). The upperwings have a ground color of dark brown. A wide, golden- yellow band crosses the median portion of the forewing.  A small white patch is present along the costal margin near the forewing apex. Both the fore- and hindwings have a narrow border checkered with yellow and brown. The underwing surface of the forewing is marked similarly as that above except somewhat paler. The hindwing beneath is dark brown and crossed by two to three darker bands. Males have a white ring directly below the antennal clubs.

ID Tip: The Golden Banded-Skipper differs from the similar Silver-spotted Skipper by lacking a white patch on the hindwings.

Egg: Females lay a short string of 2 to 7 reddish eggs on host plant leaves, usually on the underside. Eggs are stacked at angles rather than centered on top of each other. 

Caterpillar: The larvae are yellowish-green with numerous tiny yellow dots and a wide yellow lateral stripe. The head is reddish brown and has two round and yellow false eyespots on the lower portion of the facial region. The caterpillars construct a retreat by cutting a rectangular flap along the edge of a leaf and rolling it into a tubular refugium secured by silken strands. These flap shelters have distinct pointed top. The caterpillar stays in the retreat during the daytime, but comes out at night to feed on the leaves. 

Chrysalis: The chrysalis is dark brown with a greenish hue; it overwinters and adults emerge in the upcoming spring.

Golden Banded-Skippers have long been considered uncommon throughout their range, but the reason for their scarcity was baffling.  For 80+ years, based on a report from early research, their sole caterpillar host plant was thought to be Hog Peanut (Amphicarpa bracteata), a common vine that often carpets moist woodland floors. It was puzzling that habitat and host plant were abundant, yet the butterfly was usually absent. We now know that the original plant ID was incorrect—the host plant was actually Thicket Bean (Phaseolus polystachios), a vine that sometimes grows in the company of Hog Peanut, but not always.  For almost a century, the incorrect name has been passed from field guide to field guide.  Finally in 2015 the true identity of the host plant was discovered, and Thicket Bean is now considered the primary (possibly sole) caterpillar host for Golden Banded-Skippers in the southeastern U.S.

Thicket Bean inhabits open areas, often on or near slopes with woodlands nearby, and these are the habitats where Golden Banded-Skippers are typically found. Flight is rapid, and adults visit a variety of woodland flowers for nectar.  Males perch on low vegetation to wait for females. They also sip minerals from damp soil.  Females generally lay short strings of eggs on the undersides of Thicket Bean leaves.  These eggs are stacked at angles rather than centered directly on top of each other.  When caterpillars hatch, they quickly cut flaps into the leaf edge, then fold and fasten them to construct a pointed-topped shelter.  These peaked shelters, as well as the off-center egg placement, are distinctive. In Alabama, Golden Banded-Skippers have two, possibly three broods.

Golden Banded-Skippers and Thicket Bean are spread throughout the state, but how common they are is unknown.  Some research indicates that Thicket Bean occurrences may be declining due to habitat loss as well as weevil infestations. If this is true, GB-S populations will also be impacted. Golden Banded-Skippers should be searched for wherever Thicket Bean occurs, and careful tabs should be kept on both.

 

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 High Count information shows the highest numbers recorded for this species as well as when and where they occurred.

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, Calhoun, Clay, Cleburne, Colbert, Crenshaw, DeKalb, Wilcox

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

High count(s):

  • 5 - Wilcox - 8/23/2018
  • 2 - Cleburne - 5/2/2015
  • 2 - Cleburne - 5/3/2018
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
7 3 2 2 2 1 6

Habitat

The Golden Banded-Skipper prefers open areas, often near slopes, with woodlands nearby.  It is best seen along dirt roads that run through ravines and well-shaded hillsides. Look for it where populations of Thicket Bean occur.

Host and Nectar Plants

Thicket Bean/Wild Kidney Bean (Phaseolus polystachios) has been documented as the host plant in Alabama

Due to a decades old plant misidentification, the southeastern population of Golden Banded-Skippers was thought to feed exclusively on Hog Peanut (Amphicarpa bracteata). However, Thicket Bean (Phaseolus polystachios var. polystachios) has now been correctly identified as the host plant.

If you know where Thicket Bean occurs, contact al.butterflyatlas@gmail.com.

 

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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