Alabama Butterfly Atlas

Butterfly: Wingspan: 2½ - 3¾ inches (6.3 - 9.5 cm) UPPERSIDE (dorsal) Bright orange with variable black markings; three black-encircled white dots on upper forewing edge. Female somewhat darker and more heavily marked. UNDER SURFACE (ventral) Brown; forewing with orange at base; many elongated, iridescent silver spots. Forewings long and pointed.

ID Tip: Elongated silver spots on underside are distinctive.

Egg: Yellowish; ribbed; oblong in shape. Laid singly on leaves and tendrils of host plant (or nearby).

Caterpillar: Tawny orange; greenish longitudinal stripes; rows of long, black, branched spines. Head orange with black patches; two long black horns on top.

Chrysalis: Mottled beige; elongated, curved. Resembles a dead, curled leaf. 

Gulf Fritillaries are not true fritillaries. They are classified as longwings (or heliconians). Their forewings are not as elongated as some members of the family, but the classic shape is evident when they bask with outstretched wings.

Like the other longwings, Guld Fritillaries use passion flowers (maypops) as their caterpillar hosts. These plants vigorously defend themselves against hungry caterpillars.  Their leaves contain cyanogenic glycosides, but fritillary caterpillars adapted to their lethal attributes long ago and sequester them to use in their own defense against birds and lizards--a toxicity they advertise with shiny orange and black warning colors. Ants prey on butterfly eggs, and passion flowers developed nectar glands at their leaf bases that attract ants by rewarding them with sweet liquid.  Gulf Fritillaries adjusted by frequently bypassing leaves to lay eggs on tendrils or even nearby plants to safely avoid ants. Despite their defenses, passion flowers are often eaten to the ground by voracious Gulf Fritillary caterpillars. 

Gulf Fritillaries are not tolerant of freezing weather, so each year they recolonize most of Alabama after wintering further south. By late summer, they are common butterflies in virtually every county. When day lengths shorten in the fall, massive flights occur as northern butterflies travel through Alabama to the Gulf coast and southward into Florida. 

 

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

  • 200 - St. Clair - 9/29/2016
  • 190 - Mobile - 10/14/2017
  • 151 - Jefferson - 9/14/2019
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
8 6 2 1 5 5 4 1 4 1 2 3 4 9 33 14 19 30 31 48 69 165 159 136 330 231 390 466 923 927 948 1028 1349 1014 1332 504 726 368 191 149 121 75 57 43 54

Habitat

Open, scrubby areas including fields, disturbed sites, sandhills, roadsides, utility right-of-ways, meadows, pastures, parks, and suburban gardens. 

Gulf Fritillary
Gulf Fritillary (Dione incarnata)
County
© Paulette Ogard
Meadow with nectar sources
Gulf Fritillary
Gulf Fritillary (Dione incarnata)
County
© Sara Bright
Sunny field
Gulf Fritillary
Gulf Fritillary (Dione incarnata)
County
© Sara Bright
Wet meadow
Gulf Fritillary
Gulf Fritillary (Dione incarnata)
County
© Sara Bright
Meadow
Gulf Fritillary
Gulf Fritillary (Dione incarnata)
County
© Sara Bright
Wet meadow
Gulf Fritillary
Gulf Fritillary (Dione incarnata)
County
© Sara Bright
Pitcher plant bog
Gulf Fritillary
Gulf Fritillary (Dione incarnata)
County
© Sara Bright
Sunny meadow
Gulf Fritillary
Gulf Fritillary (Dione incarnata)
County
© Sara Bright
Suburban garden

Host and Nectar Plants

Various passion flowers (Passiflora spp.) are used throughout the range.

The following have been documented in Alabama:

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

Gulf Fritillary
Gulf Fritillary (Dione incarnata)
County
© Sara Bright
Yellow Passionflower
Gulf Fritillary
Gulf Fritillary (Dione incarnata)
County
© Sara Bright
Yellow Passionflower
Gulf Fritillary
Gulf Fritillary (Dione incarnata)
County
© Sara Bright
Purple PassionFlower

Landscaping Ideas

Plant passion flowers in your yard, and fritillaries will come! Including these vines in the landscape will support Gulf and Variegated Fritillary caterpillars. Purple Passion Flower (Maypop) grows in full sun, while the more diminutive Yellow Passion Flower grows in shady areas. These fast-growing vines need supporting structures like an arbor or fence.  They tend to sprout near the original planting location, and these shoots may be potted up and shared with friends.  By late summer, be prepared for lots of caterpillars: female fritillaries lay their eggs singly but will return to the same plant repeatedly if there are no others in the vicinity. Caterpillars will eat all parts of the plant including fruits.

Nearby nectar sources are also important: fall blooming flowers such as gayfeathers/blazing stars (Liatris spp.), Blue Mistflower (Conaclinium coelestinum), and asters (Symphyotrichum spp.) are nectar magnets for many butterflies, including Gulf Fritillaries.