Alabama Butterfly Atlas

Butterfly: Wingspan: 2½ - 4 inches (6.3 - 10.1 cm) UPPER SURFACE (dorsal) Male orange; dappled with spots and lines. Female darker on basal wing portion. UNDER SURFACE (ventral) Hindwing pale brown (male) or dark orange (female); wide pale band; large silver spots or "spangles.".

ID Tip: Ventrally, large metallic silver spots and a wide pale submarginal band.

Egg: Creamy white turning golden tan; flattened cone shape. Usually scattered near violets.

Caterpillar: Velvety black; rows of black spines emerging from red/orange bases. Head black with two short horns. Reddish, bulb shaped osmeterium under head. The overwintering stage (first instar).

Chrysalis: Chestnut brown; chunky.

Like all Greater Fritillaries, Great Spangleds are single brooded. Males emerge in late spring or early summer, well ahead of females. They patrol in search of females throughout the day. When females emerge, mating occurs, and most males complete their life cycle shortly after (although some linger through the summer). Females live on in a state of reproductive diapause; during July and August they are seldom seen as they hide in nearby woodlands. In late summer, females become more active and deposit eggs in the vicinity of violets. First instar caterpillars overwinter, waiting to eat until the following spring when violets flush with new growth. Caterpillars will eat leaves but prefer buds and flowers. They rest under violet leaves or in leaf litter when not eating. Late instars develop curious osmeteria-like organs. Located under the head, these bulbous glands emit an unpleasant odor to deter predation. Chrysalides are formed in leaf litter on the forest floor.

Great Spangled Fritillaries range throughout much of the northern 3/4 of the continental United States. They reach their southern limit in Alabama and Georgia. In Alabama, Great Spangleds are widespread in the upper half of the state.

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: Bibb, Blount, Chilton, Cleburne, Colbert, Cullman, DeKalb, Jackson, Jefferson, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Limestone, Madison, Marshall, Morgan, Randolph, Shelby, Tallapoosa, 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):

  • 24 - Jackson - 5/20/2009
  • 20 - Colbert - 5/6/2012
  • 20 - Colbert - 5/27/2012
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 21 12 35 183 105 32 16 2 19 24 4 4 10 14 12 30 18 7 3 6 2 3 2


Open, sunny areas icluding fields, pastures, roadsides, wet and dry meadows, and suburban yards.  

Great Spangled Fritillary
Great Spangled Fritillary (Argynnis cybele)
© Sara Bright
Sunny open woodlands
Great Spangled Fritillary
Great Spangled Fritillary (Argynnis cybele)
© Sara Bright
Meadow with spring wildflowers
Great Spangled Fritillary
Great Spangled Fritillary (Argynnis cybele)
© Sara Bright
Road through hardwood forest

Host and Nectar Plants

Violets (Viola spp.) are reported throughout the range

The following has been documented in Alabama, but other violets may also be used: 

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

Great Spangled Fritillary
Great Spangled Fritillary (Argynnis cybele)
© Sara Bright
Common Blue Violet

Landscaping Ideas

If Great Spangled Fritillaries are in the area, combination of violets and their preferred nectar sources may draw them to your landscape. Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) mountain mints (Pycnanthemum spp.), ironweeds (Vernonia spp.), and thistles (Cirsium spp.) are favorites.

Violets are spring flowering, deer-resistant perennials. Although much maligned because of their tenacity and tendency to spread, they can function as a low-maintenance groundcover in difficult landscape situations. Consider using them to fill in among shady spots where turfgrass has failed to thrive. They are vigorous and form dense mounding clumps approximately 5 to 7 inches from the ground. Violets attract many forms of wildlife that delight in their seeds, leaves, and rhizomes. These include mason bees, songbirds, wild turkeys, grouse, bobwhites, and mourning doves in addition to fritillary butterflies.