Alabama Butterfly Atlas

Butterfly: Wingspan: 2 1/4 - 4 inches (5.7 - 10.1 cm). The upperside is blue to blue-green with much iridescence on the outer part of the hindwing. The underside is dark brown. The forewing has 2 red-orange bars near the base of the leading edge; the hindwing has 3 red-orange spots near the base and a row of red-orange spots. 

ID Tip: Large black butterfly with bright iridescent blue and orange spots.  No tails.

Egg: Gray-green.  Laid singly on the tip of host plant leaf.

Caterpillar: Resembles bird droppings in all stages.  May be mottled brown or green with creamy blotches and two knobby horns on thorax. Partially grown caterpillars from the third brood spend the winter in a specially rolled leaf called a hibernaculum that they silk to a branch. Feeding and development resumes that following spring. Note: To distinguish Red-spotted Purple caterpillars from Vicery caterpillars, look for rounded rather than spiked projections behind the head.

Chrysalis: Shiny brown and white. Also resembles a bird dropping. Thorax has a a large, keel-like projection.

Red-Spotted Purples are consummate mimics.  Although they strongly resemble Pipevine Swallowtails, they are actually closely related to Viceroys, also incredible mimics.  The two species are drastically different in coloration, but their shapes are almost identical.  The family ties are also evident in early developmental stages, where egg, caterpillar, and chrysalis are almost indistinguishable.

RSP’s sip from overly ripe fruit, dung, and decaying matter, including carrion. They occasionally visit flowers for nectar.  Males are frequently encountered along woodland trails where they perch on sunlight leaves several feet above the ground.  They dart out to investigate possible females and then return to their chosen limb. Red-Spotted Purples are also avid puddlers.

Females place single white eggs on host-plant leaf tips.  From the beginning, Red-spotted Purple caterpillars are masters of the art of self-protection.  They mimic feces and never discard that guise.  In addition to their disgusting coloration, they also bear barbed antennae and bristly bumps.  Young caterpillars (first and second instars) chew away the leafy portion of host plant leaves, leaving only the midribs.  They then string their own dung pellets (called frass) onto the exposed ends, creating chains.  When not actively eating, they rest on the ends of these unpalatable chains.  RSP caterpillars also devise distracting balls comprised of chewed leaf msorsels and more dung.  They attach these lightweight structures near the ends of the leaves they are eating.  The balls wave and wiggle in the wind, potentially drawing a predator’s attention away from their tiny architects.  Late-season, partially grown caterpillars construct tightly shaped leaf tubes called hibernacula in which they spend the winter.  They silk these sleeping bag-like structures tightly to tree branches, where they look like nothing more than dead leaves.  When fresh foliage emerges in spring, Red-spotted Purple caterpillars emerge from their chambers and complete their larval development.  They dangle upside down from twigs to form their oddly shaped pupae, which bear a striking resemblance to large bird droppings. 

Red-Spotted Purples are common and widespread in Alabama.  They are expected to occur in every county.

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

Sightings in the following counties: Autauga, Baldwin, Barbour, Bibb, Blount, Bullock, Calhoun, Chambers, Cherokee, Chilton, Choctaw, Clarke, Clay, Cleburne, Coffee, Colbert, Conecuh, Coosa, Covington, Crenshaw, Cullman, Dale, Dallas, DeKalb, Elmore, Etowah, Fayette, Franklin, Greene, Hale, Houston, Jackson, Jefferson, Lamar, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Lee, Limestone, Lowndes, Macon, Madison, Marengo, Marion, Marshall, Mobile, Monroe, Montgomery, Morgan, Perry, Pickens, Randolph, Russell, Shelby, St. Clair, Sumter, Talladega, Tallapoosa, Tuscaloosa, Walker, Washington, Wilcox, Winston

  • Map Symbol for Recent Sightings Sightings in the past 5 years
  • Map Symbol for Semi-Recent Sightings Sightings in the past 5 - 10 years
  • Map Symbol for Old Sightings Sightings more than 10 years ago

High count(s):

  • 71 - Baldwin - 7/14/2018
  • 38 - Colbert - 9/2/2017
  • 36 - Colbert - 9/6/2015
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 6 10 66 100 68 73 121 54 75 76 124 119 66 81 154 72 54 52 42 104 178 225 106 48 37 30 8 2 4 1 5


Open woods, forest edges, and adjacent open areas.

Host and Nectar Plants

In the Northern U.S., a variety of plants are used as hosts including aspens, poplars, cottonwood, hawthorn, birches, black oak, and serviceberry.  Southeastern Red-spotted Purples are most often associated with Willows and Black Cherry. These have been documented as RSP host plants in Alabama as well as Common Deerberry and Eastern Cottonwood.


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 Black Cherry trees in the landscape is beneficial to Red-Spotted Purples as well as Coral Hairstreaks.  Their flowers provide nectar for many spring-flying butterflies, and their fruits are beloved by birds.

If your landscape includes a pond, lake, or stream, allowing willows to grow may encourage Red-Spotted Purples as well as Mourning Cloaks and Viceroys to take up residency.