Alabama Butterfly Atlas

Butterfly: Wingspan: 1 1/2 to to 2 3/8 inches (4.1-6 cm). Both sexes have bright yellow wings with black borders the upper surface. The yellow is often golden and may include orange.  This can be seen in flight.  Males have a solid black border; females have a wider border that is peppered with a row of yellow spots.  There is a black spot on the upper center of the forewing of both sexes.  The hindwing’s underside is yellow or greenish yellow with a double, red-rimmed silver spot in the center.  Some females are white (alba) instead of yellow.  In the field, these are virtually impossible to distinguish from female Clouded Sulphurs. Spring individuals are usually smaller, and orange is often restricted to wing bases.

ID Tip: Displays at least some gold/orange on forewing.  Lacks a diagonal brown marking below. 

Egg: Spindle-shaped.  White when laid; turns orange/red.

Caterpillar: Caterpillars are grass green with a multicolored stripe along the lower edges of the body.  The upper stripe is white followed by red/pink, white, and finally black.  Clouded Sulphur caterpillars are so similar that they cannot be reliably separated in the field.

Chrysalis: The chrysalis is green with yellow and black dashes. The overwintering stage.

Once called the Alfalfa Butterfly, Orange Sulfur's primary populations were based in the western U.S. where their host plant of choice was (predictably) alfalfa.  As eastern forests were cleared and converted to farmland, the alfalfa butterfly followed alfalfa’s eastward march, reaching Alabama in the 1930’s.  By the 1950’s, the state’s alfalfa crops were declining due to boll weevil infestations, but Orange Sulphurs were here to stay, having discovered a treasure trove of other acceptable legumes. Today, clovers and vetches satisfy larval nutritional needs and probably serve as primary host plants.

Orange Sulphurs are remarkably similar to Clouded Sulphurs, and field ID's are often extremely difficult, if not impossible.  However, female sulphurs are able to choose appropriate mates because they are able to detect ultraviolet patterns that differ in the two species.  Orange Sulphur upper wing surfaces reflect UV light, while Clouded Sulphur wings absorb it.  Even so, hybrids reportedly occur.

 

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, Calhoun, Chambers, Chilton, Clay, Cleburne, Colbert, Dallas, DeKalb, Fayette, Franklin, Hale, Jackson, Jefferson, Lawrence, Lee, Limestone, Marshall, Morgan, Perry, Pickens, Shelby, Sumter, 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
1 7 4 17 25 11 3 14 19 70 35 13 35 6 3 8 3 13 3 4 1 1 1 3 2 4 9 1 9 5 1 1

Habitat

Cultivated fields, roadsides, pastures and other sunny areas. Nearly any open, weedy site.

Host and Nectar Plants

Members of the Pea family (Fabaceae), especially clovers (Melilotus and Trifolium spp.)  and vetches (Vicia spp.), are reported.

Crimson Clover (Trifolium incarnatum) has been documented in Alabama. 

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

Landscaping Ideas

Including a variety of flowers such as daisy fleabanes (Erigeron spp.), Black Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia spp.), Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), asters (Symphyotrichum spp.), goldenrods (Solidago spp.), ironweeds (Vernonia spp.), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), and Mistflower/Wild Ageratum (Conoclinium coelestinum) in your landscape will provide nectar for butterflies like Orange Sulphurs throughout the growing season.