Alabama Butterfly Atlas

Butterfly: Wingspan: 1¾ - 2¾ inches (4.45 - 6.6 cm). Upperside has uneven brown, yellow, and orange pattern. Forewing has a black patch, a small white spot in the orange field below the patch, and a white bar at the leading edge. Underside of hindwing has two large eyespots. Winter form is smaller and paler; summer form larger with bright coloring.

ID Tip: Two large eyespots on under surface of hindwing.

Egg: Small pale green, barrel-shaped eggs are laid singly on host plant leaves.

Caterpillar: Variable in color: Greenish yellow with narrow black rings; black with creamy rings.  Dark, branched spines are red at the base.  There is a pair of white spots on each segment. Caterpillars are solitary feeders and construct nests from various parts of their host plant.  Tiny larvae use leaf hairs to construct tiny nests; larger caterpillars arrange leaves, flower heads, and detritus to form tight shelters.  Several structures are typically built during the caterpillar's development.

Chrysalis: Color varies: gray or various degrees of gold and brown. A wide dark line extends from head to tail.  There are rows of triangular projections tipped with black dots as well as black dots on other parts of the chrysalis. Often formed within a leaf-enfolded nest.

American Ladies are yearlong residents in Alabama and probably occupy every county in Alabama.

American Ladies are closely related to and strongly resemble Painted Ladies, but they are more cold tolerant. Painted Ladies must recolonize the state every year, while American Ladies are encountered early spring through late fall and occasionally even in winter.  They are habitat generalists, living almost anywhere as long as their host plants are present.

Male American Ladies sip moisture and nutrients from damp soil.  Females are often observed flying low in search of their ground-hugging host plants. Both sexes avidly nectar at a variety of plants and are often among those early spring butterflies that nectar from wild plum blossoms.





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: Autauga, Baldwin, Barbour, Bibb, Blount, Bullock, Butler, Calhoun, Chambers, Cherokee, Chilton, Choctaw, Clay, Cleburne, Coffee, Colbert, Coosa, Covington, Cullman, Dale, Dallas, DeKalb, Elmore, Escambia, Etowah, Franklin, Geneva, Greene, Hale, Henry, Houston, Jackson, Jefferson, Lamar, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Lee, Limestone, Macon, Madison, Marengo, Marion, Marshall, Mobile, Monroe, Montgomery, Morgan, Perry, Pickens, Pike, Randolph, Russell, Shelby, St. Clair, Sumter, Talladega, Tallapoosa, Tuscaloosa, Walker, Washington, 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):

  • 68 - Cleburne - 6/1/2019
  • 28 - Jefferson - 4/21/2012
  • 25 - Cleburne - 6/3/2017
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
7 3 4 3 4 3 8 17 14 25 61 69 54 122 140 134 185 127 186 230 104 51 50 61 36 27 37 20 29 20 18 18 21 7 30 15 11 17 12 17 11 12 2 1 2 2 17


A wide variety of open areas, including gardens

American Lady
American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)
© Sara Bright
Plaintain Leaf Pussytoes

Host and Nectar Plants

Plants known as “everlastings” including pussytoes (Antennaria spp.)  and cudweeds (Gamachaeta spp.) are reported throughout the range.

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

American Lady
American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)
© Sara Bright
Plantain Leaf Pussytoes
American Lady
American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)
Bibb County
© M.J. Krotzer
Caterpillar nest in Cudweed

Landscaping Ideas

Plant pussytoes to attract American Ladies. This garden-worthy groundcover will grow in sun or shade, and tolerates dry conditions.  It will form a carpet of soft gray-green foliage, and throughout much of Alabama, American Ladies are almost sure to find it. 

Consider letting your lawn areas be "natural." Cudweed is often a component in these lawns and can provide caterpillar food for American Lady caterpillars. 

Include a variety of nectar-rich flowers such as Black Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia spp.), Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), Joe Pye Weeds (Eutrochium spp.), asters (Symphyotrichum spp.), ironweeds (Vernonia spp.), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), and Blue Mistflower/Wild Ageratum (Conoclinium coelestinum) in your landscape to provide food for butterflies like American Ladies throughout the growing season.

American Lady
American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)
© Sara Bright
Plantain Leaf Pussytoes