Alabama Butterfly Atlas

Butterfly: Wingspan: ¾ - 1 inch (2.2 - 2.5 cm) UPPER SURFACE (dorsal) Plain dark brown. No stigma. UNDER SURFACE (ventral) Drab brown with light veins on hindwing.  

Egg: Dome shaped.  White; unmarked. 

Caterpillar: Pale green with pale yellow wash; dark green stripe down back and sides. Head somewhat rectangular; caramel colored with pale stripe around edges and down face. Collar indistinct.  First three pairs of legs (thoracic) light green. Mature caterpillars overwinter.

Chrysalis: Light green; sharp projection extending from tip of head.

Swarthy is Alabama’s only skipper with no distinct markings. Both its dorsal and ventral wings are plain.  Males even lack a stigma.  This is a species best described as nondescript.

Like most skippers, Swarthys have a rapid, erratic flight. They generally choose white, pink, or purple flowers when nectaring. Males perch on low vegetation to wait for potential mates. Females fly through grassy undergrowth.  They deposit their smooth, white eggs singly on host grass blades.  The slender green caterpillars are highly camouflaged, and some live exposed on blades of grass. Others construct partially rolled leaf shelters. At pupation time, caterpillars silk themselves onto a blade and undergo their final molt. Chrysalides are also well camouflaged. 

Swarthy Skippers range throughout much of the eastern United States but must recolonize northern locales each year because they are not freeze-tolerant in any life stage. In Alabama, Swarthys are widespread but not common.

 

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, Barbour, Bibb, Bullock, Calhoun, Chilton, Cleburne, Colbert, Coosa, Crenshaw, Cullman, Dallas, DeKalb, Escambia, Etowah, Franklin, Hale, Jackson, Jefferson, Lamar, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Macon, Marion, Marshall, Perry, Pickens, Shelby, Tuscaloosa, 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):

  • 13 - Bibb - 7/25/2015
  • 8 - Colbert - 7/5/2015
  • 8 - Tuscaloosa - 9/1/2022
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 1 3 6 15 12 1 2 2 2 8 17 12 8 16 3 15 4 24 36 4 21 10 6 1 1 1

Habitat

Savannas, overgrown fields, prairies, powerline clearings, woodland borders, vacant lots, roadsides, and open areas near the edge of woodlands. Typically avoids pastures and other places dominated by non-native grasses. Not generally a wetland species.  Usually found where moderately thick to dense native grass cover is present.

Swarthy Skipper
Swarthy Skipper (Nastra lherminier)
County
© Paulette Haywood Ogard
Meadow
Swarthy Skipper
Swarthy Skipper (Nastra lherminier)
County
© Sara Bright
Sunny openings along dirt road
Swarthy Skipper
Swarthy Skipper (Nastra lherminier)
County
© Sara Bright
Wet meadow

Host and Nectar Plants

Reports from nearby states list Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Broom Sedge (Andropogon virginicus), Lopsided Indian Grass (Sorgastrum secundum), Kentucky Bluegrass (Poa pratensis), and the invasive alien Cogon Grass (Imperata cylindrica).

The following has been documented in Alabama:

 

 

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

Landscaping Ideas

Provide a variety of garden worthy, nectar-rich flowers to attract butterflies like Swarthy Skippers. These include Butterfly Milkweed and other milkweeds, Purple Coneflower and other coneflowers, phloxes, mountain mints, Common Buttonbush, Joe Pye weeds, gayfeathers/blazing stars, Mistflower, ironweeds, and asters.

If you have a lawn in your landscape, consider letting it be natural.  The diverse assemblage of native and nonnative flowering plants and grasses typically found in naturalized lawns provides nectar and host sources for many small butterflies including Swarthy Skippers.