Alabama Butterfly Atlas

Butterfly:  Wingspan: 1 - 1¼ inches (2.5 - 3.2 cm).  UPPER SURFACE (dorsal) Male bright orange with brown border. Very thick black stigma. Female dark brown with small pale spots. UNDER SURFACE (ventral) Male orange with two vertical rows of prominent dark spots. Female has same spot patten on a dusky ground color.

Egg: Partial sphere.  Whitish.

Caterpillar: Green with tiny brown dots; may turn tannish brown. Head dark, sometimes with pale mottling; two tan lines on upper face. Dark heart line. Collar black. First three pairs of legs (thoracic) dark. Partially grown caterpillars overwinter.

Chrysalis: Light green with brown head and lighter, creamy-colored abdomen. Proboscis extends past end of abdomen in a separate case.

As the name implies, this species has a low, erratic flight pattern, quickly darting around and "whirling about" as it nectars from flower to flower, stopping occasionally to perch. The Whirlabout is closely related to the Sachem and Fiery Skipper. Some butterfly enthusiasts refer to these species as the “three wizards," perhaps because it takes a butterfly wizard to identify them as they dart about in a frenzy while feeding on summer flowers. Here is a hint: Whirlabout's dark hindwing spots look like a sprinkling of chocolate chips: Fiery's look like grains of black pepper.  For specific information about how to identify Whirlabouts, click the "Get Identification Help" link above.

During the afternoon, males perch on low vegetation to intercept and mate with females. When not nectaring or ovipositing, females are more reclusive, resting unobtrusively in grassy areas. They place single eggs on the blades of host grasses.  Caterpillars use silk to tie blades together to form tubular shelters.  They eat the upper part of the blades until eventually, a new shelter is required. Pupation occurs at the base of the plant in a shelter constructed from duff and grass stems. The caterpillar seals it with a thick plug of wax flakes (made by special abdominal wax glands) and silk. The chrysalis is formed within the shelter. Partially grown caterpillars from the year's last brood plug their shelter and spend the winter within it, completing development in the spring.  

Home base for Whirlabouts is along the coast of the southeastern United States, but each year they move north as the weather warms.  These common skippers occur throughout Alabama.

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: Baldwin, Barbour, Bibb, Bullock, Calhoun, Chambers, Chilton, Choctaw, Clarke, Clay, Cleburne, Coffee, Colbert, Conecuh, Coosa, Covington, Crenshaw, Cullman, Dallas, DeKalb, Elmore, Escambia, Etowah, Franklin, Geneva, Greene, Hale, Henry, Houston, Jefferson, Lamar, Lawrence, Lee, Limestone, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Marion, Marshall, Mobile, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Pike, Randolph, Russell, Shelby, St. Clair, Sumter, Tallapoosa, Tuscaloosa, Walker, Washington, Wilcox

  • 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):

  • 22 - Baldwin - 9/25/2023
  • 17 - Baldwin - 10/12/2022
  • 16 - Baldwin - 6/20/2020
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 10 1 1 3 11 15 25 5 20 25 24 37 7 13 21 50 75 86 75 65 38 35 27 66 38 59 92 104 77 51 18 7 22 2 8 2 2

Habitat

Sunny, open areas including vacant lots, roadsides, old fields, forest edges, utility right-of-ways, parks, flower gardens and naturalized lawns.

Whirlabout
Whirlabout (Polites vibex)
County
© Paulette Haywood Ogard
Utility right-of-way
Whirlabout
Whirlabout (Polites vibex)
County
© Paulette Haywood Ogard
Limestone Park
Whirlabout
Whirlabout (Polites vibex)
County
© Sara Bright
Dirt road
Whirlabout
Whirlabout (Polites vibex)
County
© Sara Bright
Sunny field
Whirlabout
Whirlabout (Polites vibex)
County
© Sara Bright
Sunny field with nectar sources.

Host and Nectar Plants

Reports from nearby states list Hairy Paspalum (Paspalum ciliatifolium), Thin Paspalum (Paspalum setaceum), Bermuda Grass (Cynodon dactylon), and St. Augustine grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum).

Bahia Grass has been documented in Alabama, but many other grasses probably serve as hosts, particularly in the Crowngrass (Paspalum) genus.

 

 

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

Whirlabout
Whirlabout (Polites vibex)
County
© Richard Carroll
Bahia Grass flowers
Whirlabout
Whirlabout (Polites vibex)
County
© Richard Carroll
Bahia Grass

Landscaping Ideas

Provide a variety of garden worthy, nectar-rich flowers to attract butterflies like Whirlabouts. 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.

If you have a lawn in your landscape, consider letting it be natural.  The diverse assemblage of native and nonnative flowering plants and grasses typically found in naturalized lawns provides nectar and host sources for many small butterflies including Whirlabouts.