Alabama Butterfly Atlas

Butterfly: Wingspan: 1¾ - 2¼ inches (4.4 - 5.7 cm) UPPER SURFACE (dorsal) Blackish brown with several large glassy (hyaline) spots on hind- and forewing. UNDER SURFACE (ventral) Chestnut brown (becomes flat brown with wear); three or four light spots on hindwing.  Head large and grayish.

Egg:  Solid-white flattened hemisphere.

Caterpillar: Long and slender. Body transparent but appears green because of gut contents; circulatory system visible. Head brown with black triangle on face and black patches on sides (near eyes).  Collar brown on sides.  First two pairs of legs (thoracic) darker than third pair. 

Chrysalis: Slender. Green; may have two pale stripes. Head green with short, reddish spike. Often covered with powdery white waxy flakes. Very long proboscis case that projects beyond tip of abdomen.

Most people who encounter Brazilian Skippers find their caterpillars eating garden canna leaves and may never see the adult butterfly.  This is partly because these large skippers are somewhat crepuscular--flying at twilight.  They are powerful aerialists whose wings make a rasping noise as they dart among stands of cannas and nectar sources.  Adults may perch momentarily on a leaf and then dart off with a fast, powerful flight.  They often return throughout the day to individual flowers along a pre-planned route. This is called traplining. Brazilian Skippers have exceptionally long tongues (proboscises) that allow them to nectar at morning glories and other long-tubed flowers. They are the largest grass skipper that occurs in Alabama.

Young larvae cut two slits into the edge of a leaf, fold over that portion to form a flap, and secure it with silk to form a shelter.  Larger, more mature caterpillars roll an entire leaf and tie it together with strands of silk. This creates a tubular retreat in which the caterpillar rests/hides during much of the day. The caterpillar leaves the security of its shelter at night to feed on the leaf portion along the top of its shelter.

In North America, Brazilian Skippers are year-round residents of south Florida, south Texas, and Mexico.  Under favorable conditions, the territory they colonize each year includes southern California, east to the Gulf and Atlantic coast states. In Alabama, the Brazilian Skipper frequently occurs in coastal counties and sporadically colonizes portions of the southern half of the state as summer progresses. Its northern range is yet to be determined. 

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, Bibb, Butler, Covington, Cullman, Dallas, Etowah, Jefferson, Mobile, Montgomery, Shelby, Sumter, 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):

  • 25 - Baldwin - 5/1/2014
  • 9 - Baldwin - 5/9/2018
  • 6 - Jefferson - 8/22/1999
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
3 27 10 2 4 2 5 2 4 1 5 4 7 5 27 15 7 9 7 8 1

Habitat

Gardens, parks, and residential areas with canna plantings.  Wet flatwoods, freshwater marshes, swamps, wet ditches, flooded fields with native cannas.

Brazilian Skipper
Brazilian Skipper (Calpodes ethlius)
County
© Sara Bright
Wet ditch with Bandana of the Everglades/Golden Canna

Host and Nectar Plants

Reports from nearby states list Indian Shot (Canna indica) in addition to members of the Canna family (Cannaceae) documented in Alabama (below). In Florida, Zedoary (Curcuma zedoaria) and other members of the exotic Ginger family (Zingiberaceae) are sometimes chosen.

The following have been confirmed in Alabama: 

 

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

Brazilian Skipper
Brazilian Skipper (Calpodes ethlius)
County
© Sara Bright
Powdery Alligatorflag
Brazilian Skipper
Brazilian Skipper (Calpodes ethlius)
County
© Sara Bright
Powdery Alligatorflag flowers
Brazilian Skipper
Brazilian Skipper (Calpodes ethlius)
County
© Sara Bright
Garden Canna
Brazilian Skipper
Brazilian Skipper (Calpodes ethlius)
County
© Sara Bright
Powdery Alligatorflag leaf with flap nests
Brazilian Skipper
Brazilian Skipper (Calpodes ethlius)
County
© Sara Bright
Bandana of the Everglades/Golden Canna

Landscaping Ideas

Consider including Garden Cannas in your garden to attract Brazilian Skippers. Selections are often available at retail garden nurseries.  Studies from Florida indicate that cannas with bright flowers (red, orange, or scarlet) received more eggs than other colors.  Varieties with red leaves were also preferred. Keep in mind that nursery-grown plants may have been chemically treated to prevent butterfly and moth caterpillars from eating their leaves, so wash them thoroughly.

The native hosts mentioned above make attractive additions to ornamental ponds. Some can be purchased from aquatic or native plant nurseries.

Note: Members of the Canna family are not winter hardy in some zones. Rhizomes may need to be dug and stored during the winter.