Alabama Butterfly Atlas

COMMON AND WHITE CHECKERED-SKIPPERS ARE CONSIDERED TOGETHER IN THIS ACCOUNT.  AT PRESENT, THESE TWO SPECIES CAN ONLY BE RELIABLY IDENTIFIED BY DISSECTION.  BECAUSE THEY CANNOT BE DISTINGUISED IN THE FIELD, WE HAVE COMBINED THEIR DATA.

Butterfly: Wingspan: ¾ to 1¼ inches (1.9 - 3.2 cm). UPPER SURFACE (dorsal) Dark checkered pattern on both wings. Female darker than male. Long, bluish-white hairs over body and basal portion; more extensive in male.  Row of tiny spots along outer wing edges; final dot at forewing tip is absent or very faint. UNDER SURFACE (ventral) Forewing like upper surface except paler. Hindwing dull white and crossed by three or four wavy, tan-colored bands (sometimes olive and tan) finely edged in black or brown. Checkered fringe.

ID TIp: On upper surface, in the row of tiny white forewing spots, the final spot at the tip is missing. 

Egg: Whitish sphere with many ridges. Deposited singly on host leaves. 

Caterpillar: Pale yellowish green. A darker green stripe runs the length of the upper body with two white stripes along each side. Body covered with fine white hairs and tiny tubercles. Head is black and densely covered with white hairs.  Collar light brown at front, black at back with a shorrt white line in middle. First two pairs of legs (thoracic) are darker.

Chrysalis: Light brown head grading into light green thorax area. Abdominal area is yellowish. Black dots and dashes form bands on upper surface. Wing cases are greenish. Mature caterpillars overwinter. 

At present, Common and White Checkered-Skippers cannot be distinguished in the field; they can only be reliably identified by dissection.  Here they are treated together and their data is combined. 

The species status of White Checkered-Skipper has been controversial for years. Once considered a southern subspecies of Common Checkered-Skipper, it was awarded full species status in 2000. The separation was based on the shape of male genitalia, which differs significantly and consistently in the two species.  Females cannot be reliably separated, even with dissection.  Both species probably fly in Alabama; however, they are indistinguishable in the field. These species, along with the closely related Tropical Checkered-Skipper, are the only skippers in the state that have a black/brown-and-white checkered pattern on the upper surface of their wings.

Checkered-Skippers nectar from small flowers, often choosing white-flowered composites. When they nectar, puddle, or perch, they usually hold their wings open. At night, they roost on tall weeds with wings tightly closed. This posture may give them a head start on sunlight absorption the following morning.

Males patrol for females in a well-defined territory for most of the day. They fly erratically and close to the ground. Occasionally, they also perch on low vegetation or on the ground. Females lay eggs singly on the leaves of introduced and native members of the Mallow family, most often in the genus called fanpetals (Sida spp.). Young caterpillars live in a shelter made by folding a leaf and tying it together with silken strands. As the caterpillars grow larger, they enlarge their retreat by joining several leaves together with silk. Fully grown caterpillars overwinter. There are no known reliable differences between eggs, larvae, or pupae of the two species.

Every year, Checkered Skippers expand their range north of the areas where they are winter residents, eventually flying throughout most of the United States. It is likely that at least one of these species occurs in every county in Alabama. In the 1990's, White Checkered-Skippers had displaced Common Checkered-Skippers in much of Florida.  Whether environmental factors give one species a leg-up on the other, and whether these population shifts are permanent or fluid, is not known.  

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: Autauga, Baldwin, Barbour, Bibb, Blount, Bullock, Butler, Calhoun, Chambers, Chilton, Choctaw, Clarke, Clay, Cleburne, Coffee, Colbert, Conecuh, Covington, Crenshaw, Cullman, Dale, Dallas, DeKalb, Elmore, Escambia, Etowah, Fayette, Franklin, Hale, Henry, Houston, Jackson, Jefferson, Lamar, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Lee, Limestone, Lowndes, Madison, Marengo, Marion, Marshall, Mobile, Monroe, Montgomery, Morgan, Perry, Pickens, Pike, Randolph, Russell, Shelby, St. Clair, 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):

  • 51 - Perry - 9/12/2021
  • 50 - Franklin - 9/25/2016
  • 48 - Baldwin - 9/10/2017
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 7 2 4 1 2 10 15 34 39 55 120 81 31 38 22 14 54 77 60 28 24 18 79 140 212 98 122 45 98 58 138 90 218 165 243 171 197 163 184 173 104 47 40 26 8 5 29

Habitat

These skippers may be found in a wide variety of Alabama habitats including roadsides, disturbed sites, pastures, old fields, fallow agricultural lands, and wherever mallows (its host plant) grow.

Common Checkered-Skipper / White Checkered-Skipper
Common Checkered-Skipper / White Checkered-Skipper (Burnsius communis/albezens)
County
© Sara Bright
Roadside
Common Checkered-Skipper / White Checkered-Skipper
Common Checkered-Skipper / White Checkered-Skipper (Burnsius communis/albezens)
County
© Sara Bright
Field
Common Checkered-Skipper / White Checkered-Skipper
Common Checkered-Skipper / White Checkered-Skipper (Burnsius communis/albezens)
County
© Sara Bright
Pasture

Host and Nectar Plants

Reports from nearby states list several species of the mallow family (Malvaceae) including mallows (Malva spp.), false mallows (Malvastrum spp.), Carolina Bristle Mallow (Modiola caroliniana), Hollyhock (Alcea rosea), fanpetals (Sida spp), and Velvet Leaf (Abutilon theophrasti).

These hosts have been documented in Alabama:

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

Common Checkered-Skipper / White Checkered-Skipper
Common Checkered-Skipper / White Checkered-Skipper (Burnsius communis/albezens)
County
© Sara Bright
Fanpetals
Common Checkered-Skipper / White Checkered-Skipper
Common Checkered-Skipper / White Checkered-Skipper (Burnsius communis/albezens)
County
© Sara Bright
Fanpetals
Common Checkered-Skipper / White Checkered-Skipper
Common Checkered-Skipper / White Checkered-Skipper (Burnsius communis/albezens)
County
© Sara Bright
Fanpetals
Common Checkered-Skipper / White Checkered-Skipper
Common Checkered-Skipper / White Checkered-Skipper (Burnsius communis/albezens)
County
© Vitaly Charny
Carolina Bristlemallow

Landscaping Ideas

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 Common and White Checkered-Skippers.