Alabama Butterfly Atlas

Butterfly: Wingspan: 1¼ - 1¾ inches (3.2 - 4.4 cm). UPPER SURFACE (dorsal) is brown with several whitish hyaline (glassy) spots on the forewing's outer half. These spots are small and misaligned.  Checkered wing fringe is buffy-brown and black. Hindwing is slightly tapered toward the bottom.  Costal fold occurs on male forewing leading edge. UNDER SURFACE (ventral) is brown with two parallel dark brown bands crossing the central portion of the hindwing. Hindwing outer margin is frosted. Palps ("face") are dark. White eye rim is broken or absent.

Egg: A pale, partial sphere that may appear greenish or white with vertical ridges and many cross-striations.  Laid singly on host leaf, usually on the underside or on very fresh, new growth.  

Caterpillar: Pale green in early instars. Later instars light brown with a pale-yellow stripe running along each side and a faint brown stripe running the top length of the body.  Body covered with short hairs, many of which originate in tiny cream-colored bumps. Head dark brown, deeply cleft, and covered with very short yellowish hairs. Lacks facial spots. Collar dark brown. Front three pairs of legs (thoracic) are dark brown. Mature caterpillars over-winter.

Chrysalis: Brown or greenish brown. Brown head. Dark between abdominal segments.  Wing cases lighter.

Northern Cloudywing is a medium-sized brown skipper best known as one of a trio of very similar species: Northern, Southern, and Confused Cloudywing.  Together they are an identification nightmare.  Although differences do exist, the issue is complicated by the fact that there are significant individual and seasonal variations within each species.  All three occur in similar habitats and often fly together. For more specific information about how to identify Northern Cloudywing, click on the "Get Identification Help" link above.

Northern Cloudywings have a low and rapid erratic flight.  They quickly dart along dirt roads or clearings, stopping frequently to nectar. Males perch near the ground or at the tops of tall grasses or small shrubs. They tend to establish a territory and use the same perch for several days. Males will quickly leave their perch to chase away rival males or to court passing females.  Unlike the other cloudywings, Northerns have a costal fold located on the leading edge of the forewing’s upper side. It encloses scales that emit a scent to attract females. Groups of males may be seen sipping minerals and moisture at wet spots along stream edges or dirt roads.

Female Northern Cloudywings deposit single eggs on various species of legumes, both introduced and native. Caterpillars create a shelter by tying leaves together with silken threads. Mature caterpillars of the final generation leave the host plant and seek a site to hibernate in leaf litter. Pupation occurs the following spring.

Of the three cloudywings, Northerns are the most widespread.  They range from coast to coast in the U.S. and down into Mexico. Unlike the others, they also range into Canada, earning them their common name.

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: Baldwin, Barbour, Bibb, Blount, Bullock, Calhoun, Cherokee, Chilton, Clay, Cleburne, Colbert, Coosa, Covington, Dallas, DeKalb, Elmore, Escambia, Hale, Jackson, Jefferson, Lawrence, Macon, Madison, Marion, Marshall, Morgan, Perry, Pickens, Randolph, Shelby, Sumter, Talladega, Tallapoosa, Tuscaloosa, Walker, Washington, Wilcox

  • 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):

  • 30 - Cleburne - 8/2/2021
  • 18 - Cleburne - 5/1/2018
  • 15 - Cleburne - 7/24/2018
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
36 52 53 80 77 75 119 76 46 39 3 2 5 9 27 43 83 62 24 7 16 1 1

Habitat

Roadsides, open woodlands, forest clearings, old fields, and utility right-of-ways. Not typically a wetland species.

Northern Cloudywing
Northern Cloudywing (Thorybes pylades)
County
© Sara Bright
Dry, disturbed site with abundant lespedeza
Northern Cloudywing
Northern Cloudywing (Thorybes pylades)
County
© Paulette Haywood Ogard
Powerline cut
Northern Cloudywing
Northern Cloudywing (Thorybes pylades)
County
© Sara Bright
Old field

Host and Nectar Plants

Reports from other states list various species of legumes (Family Fabaceae) including lespedezas (Lespedeza spp.), Butterfly Pea (Clitoria mariana), wild bean (Strophostyles helvola), tick trefoils (Desmodium spp.), Thicket Bean/Wild Kidney Bean (Phaseolus polystachios), Ground Nut (Apios americana), clovers (Trifolium spp), and Hogpeanut (Amphicarpa bracteata).

In Alabama, this plant has been documented as a host although other legumes are probably used as well:

 

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

Northern Cloudywing
Northern Cloudywing (Thorybes pylades)
County
© Sara Bright
Chinese Bush Clover/Sericea lespedeza

Landscaping Ideas

Provide a variety of garden worthy, nectar-rich flowers to attract Northern Cloudywings and other butterflies. Like many skippers, Northern Cloudywings usually nectar from pink, blue, purple, or white flowers.  Good choices include Purple Coneflower and other coneflowers, phloxes, mountain mints, Common Buttonbush, Joe Pye weeds, gayfeathers/blazing stars, Mistflower, ironweeds, and asters.