Alabama Butterfly Atlas

Butterfly: Wingspan: 2½ - 4 inches (6.3 - 10.1 cm). Large. The upperside of males is tan to orange with black scales on the forewing veins; females are tawny and darker than males. The underside of the hindwing has a wide pale band and large silver spots or "spangles.".

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

Egg: Creamy white, round eggs are usually scattered near violets.

Caterpillar: Large, velvety black caterillars have several rows of black spines with red/orange bases. Caterpillars also have a bulb-shaped osmeteria-like gland located under the head.   It emits a musky odor if the caterpillar is alarmed. First instar caterpillars look like tiny black fuzz balls. Immediately after hatching, they hide in the leaf litter near violets and go into diapause for the winter.  Very early the following year, as violet leaves begin to sprout, the larvae begin to nibble.

Chrysalis: Chunky and brown.  Hangs in a loosely constructed silken tent.

Like all Greater Fritillaries, Great Spangleds are single brooded.  Males emerge in early summer, usually several days before their female counterparts.  When females emerge, mating occurs and the male life cycle runs its course.  Females live on in a state of reproductive diapause; during July and August they are seldom seen and may aestivate (remain somewhat dormant) 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.

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 11 35 179 103 31 16 2 19 24 4 3 10 14 12 30 18 7 3 6 2 3 2


Open, sunny areas 

Great Spangled Fritillary
Great Spangled Fritillary (Argynnis cybele)
© Sara Bright
Meadow with spring wildflowers
Great Spangled Fritillary
Great Spangled Fritillary (Argynnis cybele)
© Sara Bright
Sunny edges of rich deciduous forest

Host and Nectar Plants

Violets (Viola spp.) are reported throughout its range.

Common Blue Violet  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, a combination of violets and their preferred nectar sources may draw them to your landscape.  Milkweeds, Joe Pye Weeds, and thistles are favorites.