Alabama Butterfly Atlas

Butterfly: Wing Span: 1¾ - 2¾ inches (4.2 - 7 cm). The upperside is chestnut brown; the forewing has 2 brown bars and no white spots. There are no eyespots near the outer margin. Hindwing uppersides are orange with black spots.

ID Tip: No white spots or black spots on dorsal forewing. No eyespots on ventral forewing. 

Egg: Very small.  Pale-green orbs.  Usually stacked, pyramid style. May number in the hundreds.

Caterpillar: Light green with two narrow stripes and numerous yellow spots. Head is dark and bears two stubby, antler-like horns.  There is a pair of short tails on the rear. Young caterpillars feed gregariously on the underside of host plant leaves.  Later instars become more solitary feeders. In late fall, half-grown caterpillars turn brown and group together inside curled hackberry leaves.  They are the overwintering stage.

Chrysalis: Coloration matches that of a hackberry leaf, to which it is usually attached.  There is a ridged back and a sharp horn on the head.

Tawny Emperors are encountered much less often than their close relatives, Hackberry Emperors, and often in smaller numbers.  When Tawnies are found, they are almost always in the company of Hackberry Emperors, but for unknown reasons, the reverse is not true.  

Both emperors share a similar lifestyle and are dependent on the same host plants: hackberry trees.  However, Tawnies mass their eggs in large clusters rather than dispersing them throughout the canopy as Hackberries do.  The clusters often contains hundreds of eggs, and the small army that hatches is able to collectively chew through tough mature leaves that are passed over by new-growth eaters like Hackberry Emperors and American Snouts. There may be safety in numbers, but the lucky predator that discovers the congregation of caterpillars can make quick work of its constituents.  We have observed yellow jackets carrying off caterpillar after caterpillar from a Tawny Emperor cluster.

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, Bibb, Blount, Chambers, Cherokee, Chilton, Choctaw, Colbert, Dallas, DeKalb, Elmore, Etowah, Franklin, Greene, Hale, Jackson, Jefferson, Lamar, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Lowndes, Madison, Marengo, Marshall, Monroe, Montgomery, Morgan, Perry, Pickens, Shelby, Sumter, Tuscaloosa, Washington

  • 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):

  • 36 - Perry - 7/28/2013
  • 31 - Baldwin - 9/21/2018
  • 17 - Baldwin - 7/19/2018
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
1 2 3 2 5 16 2 4 8 14 17 18 52 9 3 20 44 22 16 46 10 3 4


Low-lying woods, but also drier, upland areas. Parks and yards.

Host and Nectar Plants

Various hackberries (Celtis spp.) are the sole reported host throughout its range.   Hackberry use has been documented in Alabama.



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

Tawny Emperor
Tawny Emperor (Asterocampa clyton)
© Sara Bright
Sugarberry/Southern Hackberry Bark

Landscaping Ideas

Including hackberry trees in the landscape provides caterpillar food for at least 6 butterfly species, including Tawny Emperors.