Butterfly: Wingspan: 1¼ - 1¾ inches (3.2 - 4.4 cm). On upper surface, male is white with dark gray markings on the forewing. Light charcoal scaling occurs on the forewing tip. Female is grayish white with extensive dark checkers on both wings. On underwing surfaces, the hindwings are white with gray markings and some yellow-brown scaling along the veins. These butterflies are seasonably variable. Spring individuals are smaller. Males of that brood have stronger veining on the underside of the hindwing.
ID Tip: Both sexes display gray-black checks on upper (dorsal) surfaces
Egg: Eggs are pale yellow/orange spindles.
Caterpillar: Green, alternately striped with yellow, dark green, and purple. The caterpillar is covered with black tubercles (small rounded projections), and the head is bluish gray.
Chrysalis: Gray/green with black speckles over the body. There is a red-and-yellow dorsal ridge and two yellow lateral ridges that run along the abdomen.
Checkered Whites are sun-loving, nectar-drinking, habitat generalists, yet their populations have declined dramatically over the past 50 years. Their presence on a field trip checklist in Alabama is always a good get, although once a population is found, they may be numerous. There is no obvious reason for their scarcity, although Cabbage Whites are often blamed. These nonnative butterflies swept through North America in the nineteenth century, and they have been viewed as competitors for the same host plants and habitats. Yet Cabbage Whites typically choose cultivated mustard-family host plants like cabbage and broccoli while Checkered Whites are more likely to use wild and weedy mustards like Poorman's Pepperwort.
Checkered Whites' host plant needs may partially explain their scarcity. Their major hosts are early succession annuals that quickly move in to colonize open, disturbed ground but just as quickly disappear as more permanent vegetation takes hold. The butterflies must become opportunistic gypsies, constantly on the move, in search of the next patch of weedy plants that will provide food for their caterpillars. Although they often seem to be "here today, gone tomorrow," home-base populations do exist. Checkered Whites should be sought in large fields and pastures that contain their hosts. In Baldwin County, they sometimes fly in the vicinity of both Great Southern and Cabbage Whites.
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 email@example.com.
Sightings in the following counties: Baldwin, Barbour, Bibb, Calhoun, Cherokee, Chilton, Colbert, Covington, Dallas, Elmore, Escambia, Franklin, Henry, Jackson, Jefferson, Lawrence, Limestone, Madison, Mobile, Perry, Pike, Shelby, Sumter
View county names by moving the mouse over a county or view a map with county names
Open spaces. Dry, weedy areas. Flowering fields. These are often early succession, “disturbed” areas.
Weedy members of the Mustard family (Brassicaceae) that include Poor Man's Pepperwort (Lepidium virginicum), Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) and Common Winter Cress (Barbarea vulgaris) are reported from other areas.
Poor Man's Pepperwort is the only documented host in Alabama.
For more information about these plants, please visit the Alabama Plant Atlas using the links above.
Click on individual photos to view a larger version that includes photo credits, county, and date.
Photos with comments are indicated by a small, tan dot on the bottom right.