Alabama Butterfly Atlas

Butterfly: Wingspan: 1¼ - 2¼ inches (3.2 - 5.7 cm) UPPER SURFACE (dorsal) Male forewing dark with orange patches. Female patches are smaller and creamy white.  Hindwing of both is orange with dark, scalloped edges. UNDER SURFACE (ventral) Forewing markings mirror dorsal forewing. Long pale ray extends from wing base; crossed by pale spot band. Resembles a cross or an arrow.

Egg: Pale white; unmarked. Dome shaped.

Caterpillar: Body pale greenish tan; stripes on side and back. Head light tan with two black spots and a vertical black line that widens at top. Collar thin and pale.  First three pairs of legs (thoracic) light tan.  Partially grown larvae overwinter.

Chrysalis: Two-toned: dark brown near head and abdomen areas; lighter tan in the middle.

Male Broad-wingeds flutter through large stands of host plants, patrolling in search for females. Their flight is somewhat slow and bouncy as they fly below the top of the vegetation and dip low to flush potential mates. They periodically stop to sit with open wings, often perching on pieces of dead grass.  Females tend to remain low in host grasses when not nectaring or ovipositing.  Both sexes nectar at a variety of wetland plants including Buttonbush and Water Willow. Males may wander some distance to find nectar, sometimes into nearby gardens.

Females typically deposit eggs on the lower half of host grass blades. Caterpillars do not construct typical skipper leaf shelters; they make use of a natural "shelter" formed by a recess between the sheath and stem of the host grass. They hide deep within this channel, above the level of the water, and feed on the upper half of the grass blades. Pupation occurs within the recesses at the base of the plant. Partially grown caterpillars overwinter. Development is completed in the spring when larvae resume eating and feed on emerging grass blades. Pupation occurs in the leaf shelter near the base of the plant. The chrysalis is attached loosely at the bottom and points head up.

Broad-winged Skippers occur in scattered colonies throughout much of the eastern and central United States. Their range has increased because they adapted to use of the highly invasive, non-native Giant Reed (Phragmites australis) as a caterpillar host. In Alabama, they are widespread but uncommon.

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: Baldwin, Barbour, Bibb, DeKalb, Jackson, Marshall, Mobile, Montgomery, St. Clair, Sumter

  • 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):

  • 15 - Marshall - 5/27/2021
  • 12 - Barbour - 10/9/2016
  • 10 - Marshall - 5/24/2019
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 1 1 1 7 8 5 50 35 19 4 2 1 1 6 4 10 17 3 1 2 6 5 4 15 1 1


Coastal salt and brackish marshes as well as inland freshwater marshes and lake edges. Look for them where large stands of their host plants grow in shallow water.

Broad-winged Skipper
Broad-winged Skipper (Poanes viator)
Marshall County
© Sara Bright
Lake edge with Button Bush and Giant Cutgrass
Broad-winged Skipper
Broad-winged Skipper (Poanes viator)
© Paullette Haywood Ogard
Freshwater inlet with stand of Giant Cutgrass
Broad-winged Skipper
Broad-winged Skipper (Poanes viator)
© Sara Bright
Lake edge with cutgrass in flower

Host and Nectar Plants

Reports from other states list Wild Rice (Zizantia aquatica), Big Cordgrass (Spartina cynosuroides), Marsh Millet/Giant Cutgrass (Zizantopsis miliacea), and the non-native Giant Reed (Phragmites australis). 

Marsh Millet/Giant Cutgrass has been documented as a host plant in Alabama, and Broad-winged Skippers should be searched for wherever large stands of this perennial grass occur. Other broad-leaved wetland grasses, particularly the closely related Wild Rice, may also be used.

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

Broad-winged Skipper
Broad-winged Skipper (Poanes viator)
© Sara Bright
Marsh Millet/Giant Cutgrass

Landscaping Ideas

Broad-winged Skippers sometimes wander into gardens that are near their wetland habitats. Provide a variety of garden-worthy, nectar-rich flowers to attract them and many other butterfly species. These include Butterfly Milkweed and other milkweeds; Purple Coneflower and other coneflowers; black eyed susans; phloxes; mountain mints; Common Buttonbush; Joe Pye weeds; gayfeathers/blazing stars; Mistflower; ironweeds; asters; and goldenrods.