Alabama Butterfly Atlas

Butterfly: Wingspan: 1½ - 2 inches (3.5 - 4.8 cm) UPPER SURFACE (dorsal) Bright orange with black borders. Males uniformly orange; females paler and somewhat streaked. Small black dash ("sleepy eye" mark) near middle of forewing. UNDER SURFACE (ventral) Two seasonal color forms. Hindwings yellow in summer form; tan to brick red in winter form. Long, brownish, "smudgy" hindwing line is constant. Overwinters in reproductive diapause.

ID Tip: Color varies seasonally, but diagonal brown marking on ventral hindwing persists.

Egg: Spindle-shaped. White when laid but quickly turns yellow.  Laid singly on host plant.

Caterpillar: Green with narrow white stripes on sides and very short hairs.

Chrysalis: Green or brown. May have dark markings, especially in fall. Long point on head.

 

 

Anyone who has watched a Sleepy Orange zip through a field or dart across a road knows there is nothing “sleepy” about its behavior.  It is enlightening to learn that the name’s origin derives from wing pattern rather than flight speed.  The small black crescents that mark the forewing resemble closed or “sleepy” eyes.  “Rambling” Orange” has been proposed a more logical name since, like all sulphurs, Sleepy Oranges seldom hold their wings where the “sleepy” field marks are visible.

Like other sulphurs, Sleepy Oranges are seasonably variable in appearance and lifestyle.  Summer forms have golden yellow outer wings. They are short lived but produce several generations.  Winter forms are tan/reddish brown and more heavily patterned. These butterflies spend the winter months in reproductive diapause.

Sleepy Oranges fly rapidly and close to the ground. They drink nectar from a wide variety of flowers, including those in gardens. Males avidly sip minerals from damp earth and are common constituents of late-summer puddle clubs.

In Alabama, Sleepy Oranges are widespread and common. Although they are not completely cold tolerant, they appear to be hardier than many of their yellow cousins and are sometimes encountered in early spring.  Early in the year, single butterflies are often seen flying in woodlands, perhaps because their more typical, open-field habitats are later to sprout new growth.  By midsummer, they fly by the dozens around cultivated fields and roadsides. 

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: Autauga, Baldwin, Barbour, Bibb, Blount, Bullock, Butler, Calhoun, Chambers, Cherokee, Chilton, Choctaw, Clarke, Clay, Cleburne, Coffee, Colbert, Conecuh, Coosa, Covington, Crenshaw, Cullman, Dale, Dallas, DeKalb, Elmore, Escambia, Etowah, Fayette, Franklin, Geneva, Greene, Hale, Henry, Houston, Jackson, Jefferson, Lamar, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Lee, Limestone, Lowndes, Macon, Madison, Marengo, Marion, Marshall, Mobile, Monroe, Montgomery, Morgan, Perry, Pickens, Pike, 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):

  • 453 - Baldwin - 9/14/2023
  • 101 - Baldwin - 8/10/2020
  • 101 - Monroe - 9/11/2023
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
8 2 3 11 6 3 11 55 59 51 54 76 18 10 10 42 31 17 39 121 46 79 80 152 160 320 282 425 360 491 409 543 386 1046 512 429 303 257 142 105 174 75 58 36 28 4 12 10

Habitat

Open areas that include agricultural fields, disturbed areas, wet meadows, old fields, roadsides, parks, and gardens.  In spring, also encountered in woodlands and inside forests.

 

Sleepy Orange
Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)
County
© Sara Bright
Roadside with Common Partridge Pea
Sleepy Orange
Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)
County
© Dan Spaulding
American Senna

Host and Nectar Plants

Reports from nearby states list various wild sennas (Senna spp.), Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata), and Wild Sensitive Pea (C. nictitans).

These host plants have been documented in Alabama:

 

For more information about these plants, please visit the Alabama Plant Atlas using the links above.

Sleepy Orange
Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)
County
© Sara Bright
Common Partridge Pea
Sleepy Orange
Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)
County
© Sara Bright
Common Partridge Pea
Sleepy Orange
Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)
County
© Dan Spaulding
American Senna
Sleepy Orange
Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)
County
© Dan Spaulding
American Senna
Sleepy Orange
Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)
County
© Paul Oak
Coffeeweed/Sicklepod
Sleepy Orange
Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)
County
© Hollifield
Maryland Wild Senna

Landscaping Ideas

Including Partridge Peas in the landscape will feed several species of sulphur caterpillars, including Sleepy Orange.  

Nectar sources that include asters, goldenrods, mistflowers, and other late season bloomers are important since Sleepy Orange populations peak in the fall.

Sleepy Orange
Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)
County
© Sara Bright
Common Partridge Pea in front of Black Eyed Susans
Sleepy Orange
Sleepy Orange (Abaeis nicippe)
County
© Sara Bright
Common Partridge Pea used as groundcover.