Alabama Butterfly Atlas

Butterfly:  Wingspan: 1 - 1¼ inches (2.5 - 3.2 cm).  In males, the underside of the wings is yellow-orange with the hindwing displaying 2 broken rows of contrasting dark brown spots. In females, the underside of the wings is pale grayish-yellow and with 2 rows of contrasting dark brown spots as in the male. In males, the upperside of the wings is yellow-orange with black wing borders. There is a black stigma on the forewing.  The upperside of the female is dark brown with a row of 2 to 5 pale yellow spots near the outer forewing. A single squarish pale yellow spot occurs along the submarginal to subapical margin of the forewing.

Egg:  Females lay their smooth, white, hemispherical-shaped eggs on grasses. 

Caterpillar: Green to purplish. Head dark brownish-black with two light vertical stripes on forehead and light spots around lower edge of head. 

Chrysalis: Light green with 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. During the afternoon, males perch on low vegetation in an effort to intercept and mate with females.

The Whirlabout is closely-related to the Sachem and Fiery Skipper. Some butterfly enthusiasts refer to these three skippers as the “three wizards”.  Indeed, it takes a butterfly wizard in order to identify these skippers as they dart about in a frenzy while feeding on summer flowers.



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, 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, 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):

  • 17 - Baldwin - 10/12/2022
  • 16 - Baldwin - 6/20/2020
  • 14 - Shelby - 9/27/2021
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 3 11 13 25 5 20 25 23 34 5 13 20 47 55 74 71 56 35 33 21 64 33 41 72 63 64 50 17 6 22 2 8 2 2


The Whirlabout is found in open areas including vacant lots, roadsides, old fields, forest edges, utility right-of-ways, and in urban areas including parks, flower gardens and lawns.

Whirlabout (Polites vibex)
© Sara Bright
Sunny field with nectar

Host and Nectar Plants

In nearby states, the larvae of the Whirlabout feed on grasses such as 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 (Polites vibex)
© Richard Carroll
Bahia Grass flowers
Whirlabout (Polites vibex)
© Richard Carroll
Bahia Grass

Landscaping Ideas

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