Alabama Butterfly Atlas

Butterfly: Wingspan: 2½ - 3½ inches (6.0 - 8.9 cm) UPPER SURFACE (dorsal) UNDER SURFACE (ventral) White with black stripes and long, slender tails; hindwing bears a bright patch of red above the eyespot on upper surface.  Below, there is a bright red stripe through the hindwing.   Spring forms are smaller, lighter, and have shorter tails.  Tail length increases with each generation.

Egg: Spherical.  Translucent green when laid; acquires peachy mottling with age.

Caterpillar: Several color forms: green with light blue and yellow stripes; charcoal black or brown with white and yellow stripes; ocassionally green with tiny dark spots. Thin blue,black and yellow stripe between thorax and abdomen (often hidden frm view). Humped appearance. Osmeterium yellow. 

Chrysalis: Short and stout. Leafy green or bark brown. The overwintering stage.

A large, black-and-white-striped butterfly flying in Alabama is a Zebra Swallowtail. Slender striped wings are adapted for both maneuverability and camouflage, allowing Zebra Swallowtails to flutter and swoop through woodland understories. Visually, their telltale stripes make them difficult to follow as they glide through dappled sunlight and shadows.

Males patrol for females and may be observed flying low, back and forth along woodland trails within their habitat.   Males also gather at mud puddles, wet roads and riverbanks to sip moisture. Zebra Swallowtails have a much shorter proboscis than other swallowtails and typically nectar from short-tubed flowers that include blueberries, blackberries, wild plums, blue stars, and milkweeds. Females lay greenish globes singly on various parts of the pawpaw host, including flowers and buds. Caterpillars eat leaves, flowers, and buds.  Chrysalides are often attached to the pawpaw and may be green or brown, depending on day length and substrate. Late season pupae are usually brown and are attached to something structural like tree bark, a safe place to spend the winter. 

Zebra Swallowtails belong to the worldwide group of Kite Swallowtails, a tropical genus named for its wing shape. They are the sole members that have adapted to our North American, less-than-tropical climate, ranging throughout much of the eastern United States.  In Alabama, they occur in every county.

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, Cherokee, Chilton, Clarke, Clay, Cleburne, Coffee, Colbert, Conecuh, Coosa, Covington, Cullman, Dale, Dallas, Dekalb, DeKalb, Elmore, Escambia, Etowah, Fayette, Franklin, Geneva, Greene, Hale, Henry, Houston, Jackson, Jefferson, Lamar, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Lee, Limestone, Macon, Madison, Marengo, Marion, Marshall, 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):

  • 100 - Baldwin - 9/3/2016
  • 64 - Bibb - 3/17/2019
  • 55 - Shelby - 4/6/2002
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 3 26 106 135 377 600 407 242 271 129 200 162 136 167 126 58 22 37 18 19 18 35 14 22 37 30 132 64 24 76 49 7 22 36 7

Habitat

Hardwood forests as well as bottomlands. Rich woodlands, stream corridors, old fields. In Alabama, may also occur in pine flatwoods and sandhills if Slim Leaf Pawpaw (Asimina spatulata) is a host. Tolerates development poorly.

Host and Nectar Plants

Rangewide, various species of pawpaw (Annonaceae) are the sole hosts. 

The following have been documented in Alabama:

 

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

Zebra Swallowtail
Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus)
County
© Sara Bright
Common Pawpaw flowering in early spring
Zebra Swallowtail
Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus)
County
© Sara Bright
Common Pawpaw fruit
Zebra Swallowtail
Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus)
County
© Sara Bright
Common Pawpaw leaves and flower
Zebra Swallowtail
Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus)
County
Common Pawpaw with flowers
Zebra Swallowtail
Zebra Swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus)
County
© Sara Bright
Small Fruit Pawpaw with caterpillar and flowers

Landscaping Ideas

Zebra Swallowtails rarely visit gardens and seldom stray far from the woods.  However, adding pawpaws to your landscape may entice them to visit if connected to the right habitat.