Alabama Butterfly Atlas

Butterfly: Wingspan: 2¼ - 3 inches (5.7 - 7.6 cm).  The upperside is red-orange with black spots. The forewing is hooked. The upperside hindwing of the summer form is mostly black with a short tail; that of the winter form has more orange and a longer, violet-tipped tail. The underside is light brown; the hindwing has a pearly-white question mark in the center. Adults overwinter.

ID Tip: Silver-white question mark on under surface of hindwing

Egg: Translucent, ribbed, green globes that are laid singly or stacked in chains on top of host plant leaves.

Caterpillar: Gray-black with orange and cream stripes and spots, as well as several rows of branched spines.

Chrysalis: Mottled gray-brown. Silver spots on thorax. Two rows of short, sharp projections on abdomen. Resembles are crumpled, dead leaf.

Their heavily scalloped, uneven wing shapes place Question Marks in a group of butterflies descriptively known as “anglewings.” In Alabama, Question Marks are the largest of that group.  Their common name refers to a distinctive silver mark on the hindwing.  They are also known as “Violet-Tips, “ because their wings are edged with varying degrees of lavender, depending on the season. 

Question Marks often make their first appearance during unseasonably warm days in February. These individuals are overwintering adults.  Question Marks are not tightly brooded, and may be encountered almost anytime. 

Question Marks are regular visitors to puddles and creek banks where they may gather in numbers.  They rely primarily on non-floral food sources and sip liquids from overly ripe fruit, animal dung, and oozing trees.  Males are notoriously territorial and dart out to investigate almost any intruder.  They return to the same reliable perch but may first stop to sample perspiration-damp skin.


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, Bibb, Blount, Calhoun, Chilton, Choctaw, Cleburne, Colbert, Dallas, DeKalb, Elmore, Etowah, Franklin, Greene, Hale, Jackson, Jefferson, Lamar, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Lee, Limestone, Lowndes, Macon, Madison, Marengo, Marion, Marshall, Mobile, Monroe, Morgan, Perry, Pickens, Randolph, Russell, Shelby, Sumter, Talladega, Tallapoosa, Tuscaloosa, 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):

  • 25 - Baldwin - 9/10/2017
  • 25 - Baldwin - 7/19/2018
  • 17 - Baldwin - 7/14/2018
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 9 7 10 44 71 46 53 30 20 25 15 60 57 102 51 53 19 10 11 34 29 41 35 18 22 20 20 33 38 45 29 22 16 10 31 19 33 16 11 1 4


Deciduous woodlands with some open space. Often near water.

Question Mark
Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis)
© Sara Bright
Creek lined with False Nettle

Host and Nectar Plants

Trees within the Elm family (Ulmus spp.), hackberries (Celtis spp.), nettles (Urtica spp.), and false nettles (Boehmeria spp.) are reported elsewhere.  The following species have been documented in Alabama.


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

Question Mark
Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis)
Winged Elm
Question Mark
Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis)
© Sara Bright
False Nettle

Landscaping Ideas

Including hackberry trees in the landscape provides caterpillar food for at least 6 butterfly species, including Question Marks.

Question Mark
Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis)
© Sara Bright
False Nettles bordering a landscape water feature