27 Common Butterflies Found in Alabama! (ID Guide)
“What kinds of butterflies can you find in Alabama?”
I love watching butterflies in my neighborhood! It’s amazing to see the incredible variety of different colors, patterns, and sizes.
There are hundreds of kinds of butterflies in Alabama! Since it would be impossible to list them all in one article, I chose the most common and exciting species to share with you today. 🙂
Today, you’ll learn about 27 kinds of butterflies found in Alabama.
#1. Red Admiral
- Vanessa atalanta
- Red Admirals have a wingspan of 1.75 to 2.5 inches.
- The coloring is dark brown with a reddish circular band and white spots. The underside of the back wings looks similar to bark.
- The caterpillars are pinkish-gray to charcoal with white spots. They have spines along the back that resemble hairs.
The Red Admiral is the most widespread butterfly in Alabama!
Look for this beautiful butterfly near the edge of forests in moist habitats. Red Admiral Butterflies have a unique favorite food – they love fermented fruit! If you’d like to attract them, try placing overripe cut fruit in a sunny spot in your yard.
Red Admirals are migratory butterflies. They fly south toward warmer climates in winter, and then move north again in late spring, where food is more plentiful.
If you’re looking for a butterfly in Alabama that’s easy to observe, you’re in luck! Red Admirals are very calm and easy to approach and frequently land on humans!
RELATED: How to Attract Butterflies: 17 Tips!
#2. Painted Lady
- Vanessa cardui
- Painted Lady butterflies have a wingspan of 1.75 to 2.5 inches.
- The coloring is pinkish-orange, with dark brown to black markings near the wingtips and white spots inside the black markings.
- The caterpillars’ coloring is variable, ranging from greenish-yellow to charcoal. Most have light-colored spots.
Look for Painted Lady butterflies in Alabama in open areas that are quiet and undisturbed, like roadsides, pastures, and gardens. This species migrates south to Mexico over winter and returns in the spring.
The population of Painted Lady butterflies can be drastically different from year to year. It’s common for them not to be seen for years in a row in some places, then suddenly show up in more significant numbers.
The Painted Lady is the only butterfly that mates year-round! Because of its constant migration pattern, it spends its entire life in suitable areas for its eggs to hatch.
- Danaus plexippus
- Monarch butterflies have a wingspan of 3.5 to 4 inches.
- Their recognizable coloring is a “stained glass” pattern of orange with black veins. White dots line the outside edge of the wings.
- Caterpillars are plump, with black, white, and yellow bands and tentacles on each end of its body.
Monarchs are easily the most recognized butterfly in Alabama!
They are famous for their color pattern and migration. Look for Monarchs anywhere there is milkweed, which is the only food source their caterpillars eat.
Most people are familiar with the declining population of Monarchs. However, you might not know that this indicates an overall population decline of many other pollinating species like bees. Planting local milkweed species to attract Monarchs will also help these other species.
During migration, usually in mid-September, you may even see groups of hundreds flying south!
#4. American Lady
- Vanessa virginiensis
- American Lady Butterflies have a wingspan of 1.75 to 2.5 inches.
- The coloring of this species is a brilliant orange with dark borders and markings and white and purple spots. The underwings have an ornate pattern similar to a cobweb.
Look for American Lady butterflies in Alabama near open landscapes with leafy, flowering plants.
On the underside of the wings, American Lady butterflies have eyespots. These circular markings make the butterfly look intimidating to predators, warding off potential danger.
Eyespots aren’t unique to butterflies – moths, other insects, and even some fish species display this evolutionary defense strategy!
Additionally, American Lady butterflies are nervous and will often take flight at the slightest disturbance.
- Limenitis archippus
- Viceroy butterflies have a wingspan of 2.5 to 3.25 inches.
- Their coloring is deep orange with black edges and veins and white spots on the black border.
- The caterpillar is a mix of green, brown, and cream colors. It has two “horns” on its head that look like knobby antennae.
The first thing you might notice about the Viceroy butterfly is that it’s almost identical to the Monarch! The easiest way to tell them apart is to look for the black line on the bottom wing. This line is present in Viceroys, but not Monarchs.
Even though these two butterflies are similar in appearance, their caterpillars look remarkably different. Viceroy caterpillars are greenish-brown, spiny, and certainly not as beautiful as Monarch caterpillars.
I think of them as the “ugly duckling” of caterpillars, but they’re one of the prettiest butterflies in Alabama!
One other key difference between these two species is that Viceroys don’t migrate. Instead, the caterpillars roll up and hibernate in leaves and emerge during the next breeding season.
#6. Hackberry Emperor
- Hackberry Emperors have a wingspan of 2 to 2.75 inches.
- The intricate pattern of this species is amber brown and nearly black, with orange-ringed eyespots and many spots in dark brown and white.
- Caterpillars are light green with two yellow stripes on the back. Two short spines top the head, and there are two small tails on the rear end.
Hackberry Emperor butterflies are common in Alabama.
Look for them in moist wooded areas, parks, and suburban yards. One place you WON’T find Hackberry Emperors is on flowers since they don’t eat flower nectar at all!
Although flowers don’t attract them, they are naturally curious and will even land on humans who happen to be near them. One reason for this habit is to ingest sodium from our skin! This may be hard to believe, but Hackberry Emperors find the minerals they need to survive in tons of unusual places, like soil, rocks, and even pavement!
They also eat sap, dung, carrion, and rotting fruit and drink water from rain puddles. They might be one of the least picky eaters I’ve encountered!
#7. Red-Spotted Purple
- Limenitis arthemis astyanax
- Red-Spotted Purple butterflies have a wingspan of 3 to 4 inches.
- Coloring is iridescent blackish-blue, with rows of spots on the outer edge of the wings. The spots are commonly orange or red, but in some morphs, the spots are light blue. The undersides of the wings are sooty black.
- Caterpillars are mottled brown, cream, and yellow, with lumpy, angular body sections and twig-like horns.
Red-Spotted Purples are one of the most beautiful butterflies in Alabama!
Their shimmery, dark-purple wings and bright red-orange spots allow them to stand out – and amazingly, this is actually their main defense against predators! They developed their coloring to mimic the poisonous Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly.
What’s amazing about Red-Spotted Purple butterflies is that members of the same species can look completely different. In the northern part of its range, where there are no Pipevine Swallowtail, this same butterfly is called the White Admiral!
Instead of nectar, Red-Spotted Purple butterflies eat carrion, sap, and rotting fruit. To attract them, try putting a cut orange or banana in a suet cage in your yard. You’re most likely to see them during their active season from April to October.
#8. Mourning Cloak
- Nymphalis Antiopa
- Mourning Cloaks have a wingspan of 3 to 4 inches.
- The coloring is black with an iridescent sheen. A yellow border and a row of purple spots mark the outer edge of the wings.
- Caterpillars are black with white specks and a row of red spots on the back.
Mourning Cloak butterflies are most often found near deciduous forests. However, their habitat includes many developed areas like suburban yards, parks, and golf courses.
You might have a hard time finding this butterfly in Alabama.
Even though it’s fairly widespread, its preference for cold weather and solitary habits make it hard to spot even for an avid butterfly enthusiast! In addition, it’s so well-camouflaged when its wings are folded that you might miss one right in front of you.
Mourning Cloaks are often the first butterflies to become active in the spring! In fact, some adults are even active through winter on warm days, when snow is still on the ground.
They’re also one of the longest-lived butterflies around, with some individuals living up to ten months!
#9. Pearl Crescent
- Phyciodes tharos
- Pearl Crescent butterflies have a wingspan of 1.25 to 1.75 inches.
- Their coloring is bright orange with black borders, spots, and lines. The pattern created by the black markings is similar to lace.
- Caterpillars are dark brown with cream stripes and spines all over their bodies.
Look for Pearl Crescent butterflies in Alabama near moist ground.
They prefer open, sunny habitats but many locations suit their needs, including forest edges, fields, meadows, and gardens.
The Pearl Crescent caterpillar’s preferred host is the Aster plant. Any flowering plants in your yard will attract this beautiful butterfly, but for best results, try to find one that’s native to your area.
When the caterpillars grow into butterflies, they will feed on the nectar of the Asters as well!
#10. Question Mark
- Question Mark butterflies have a wingspan of 2.25 to 3 inches.
- Their coloring is deep orange with black spots and a lavender edge.
- Caterpillars are gray to black with spines on the side and orange and cream stripes.
Look for Question Mark butterflies in moist woodland and forest edges. Their caterpillars’ preferred host plants are elm trees and nettle, so you’re most likely to see this species in areas with elm forests or thickets of nettle, or both.
Question Marks feature bright coloring on the upper side of their wings, but the lower side is mottled brown. This coloring helps to camouflage the butterflies, making them resemble a dead leaf while resting on branches.
Their name comes from a slight, light-colored marking on the underside of the wing. It takes some imagination, but this marking sort of looks like a roughly drawn question mark!
#11. Eastern Comma
- Eastern Comma butterflies have a wingspan of 2 to 2.5 inches.
- Coloring is orange with black mottling on the upper wings and primarily black with some orange spots on the lower wings.
- Caterpillars are black or greenish with a white stripe down the sides and white spines.
Eastern Comma butterflies live in deciduous forests, suburban yards, and parks.
Nettle and Elm Trees are the preferred hosts for their caterpillars. Adults are not attracted to flowers but instead feed on rotting fruit, carrion, and animal dung. So this most likely isn’t a species you’d want to attract to your yard! 🙂
However, they’re very prevalent, and your chance of seeing one is good.
Interestingly, Eastern Commas hibernate as adults instead of as caterpillars. During winter, they find shelter in log piles, tree hollows, and even some human-made shelters. Their mating season is early spring, and new generations of butterflies become active in early summer.
#12. Common Buckeye
- Common Buckeye butterflies have a wingspan of 2 to 2.5 inches.
- Their coloring is brown with orange bars. Black and white rings outline three to four prominent eyespots with middles in blue, magenta, orange, and green shades.
- Caterpillars are dark brown to black with stripes along the back and sides and spines around the entire body.
Common Buckeyes prefer open spaces like pastures, old fields, and roadsides in Alabama. Although they’re hard to approach and wary of predators, they fly low to the ground and will often perch long enough for you to snap a photo.
In the southern U.S., Common Buckeyes don’t have a specific mating season. Since they can live in the southern climate all year, they continually reproduce.
Common Buckeyes in northern states migrate south for the winter and return in the spring for mating. These northern individuals can produce two to four generations each season!
#13. Variegated Fritillary
- Variegated Fritillary butterflies have a wingspan of 1.75 to 2.25 inches.
- The coloring of this species is tawny brown to burnt orange with black dots and lines. The outer edge of the wings is also lined in black.
- Caterpillars are reddish-orange, with white stripes that run the length of the body and black spines.
Look for these butterflies in Alabama in meadows, open lots, and fields.
Plant flowers like butterfly weed, mint, and sunflowers to attract them to your garden. Ornamental plants like violets, pansies, and passionflower serve as hosts for their caterpillars.
The Variegated Fritillary’s chrysalis is one of the most beautiful of all the butterflies in Alabama. This protective shell is where the caterpillar transforms into the adult butterfly. Its pearly white color and shiny gold spikes make it look like an expensive jeweled pendant!
#14. Great Spangled Fritillary
- Great Spangled Fritillary butterflies have a wingspan of 2.5 to 3.5 inches.
- Their coloring is orange with black lines and dots that form a web-like pattern on their wings. In addition, the undersides of their wings have silvery white dots outlined in black.
The Great Spangled Fritillary is one of many butterflies in Alabama that prefers open, sunny areas like pastures and meadows.
It’s not uncommon to see hundreds of them in large milkweed or violet fields!
This species doesn’t migrate; instead, its caterpillars hibernate over winter and emerge in the spring. That happens around the same time as the new growth on their host violet plants appears.
Interestingly, male Great Spangled Fritillaries die weeks before females, right after mating. The females then feed for another two to three weeks and lay eggs before also dying off.
#15. Common Wood-Nymph
- Cercyonis pegala
- Common Wood-Nymphs have a wingspan of 2 to 3 inches.
- Coloring can vary greatly, but generally, this species is shades of brown with dark eyespots.
- Caterpillars are yellow-green with dark green stripes and white hairs.
Common Wood-Nymphs are found in many different habitats, including open forests, meadows, agricultural fields, and salt marshes. Their caterpillars hatch late in fall and hibernate through the winter.
Look for this species in late summer and early fall since it’s most active this time of year.
Adult Common Wood-Nymphs occasionally eat flower nectar but prefer to feed on rotting fruit or decaying plants.
This is one of few species whose host plant (which the caterpillar eats) is grass. Kentucky Bluegrass, one of its favorites, is also a popular lawn grass. So, you may not even need to plant anything new to attract this species!
#16. Little Wood Satyr
- Little Wood Satyrs have a wingspan of 1.5 to 1.9 inches.
- They are brown with multiple yellow-ringed eyespots. Their top wings have two eyespots, and their bottom wings can have one to three.
Look for Little Wood Satyrs in shady woodland areas, clearings, and nearby brushy areas. They prefer to stay close to the ground and even use leaf litter as a perch to rest, instead of branches or tall grass like some other species.
Little Wood Satyrs are not attracted to flowers because they don’t eat nectar. You’d probably be surprised and kind of disgusted by its regular diet!
Instead of wildflowers or sweet fruit, this species is attracted to animal dung, rotting mushrooms, and old sap flows. So it’s probably best to find this butterfly in its natural habitat instead of trying to attract it to your yard!
#17. American Snout
- American Snout butterflies have a wingspan of 1.5 to 2 inches.
- The coloring is brown with orange and white patches that resemble a dead leaf. In addition, the upper side of the wings is more heavily patterned and darker in color.
One look at this strange butterfly, and you’ll know why it’s called the American Snout! This species’ long, beak-like “snout” is used as camouflage, making the butterfly look more leaf-like.
There are no other butterflies in Alabama with this feature!
Even though American Snout butterflies migrate north every year, they’re generally rare in most of their habitat and hard to find because of their excellent camouflage. When they are seen, it’s often in huge migratory groups that are so massive they can darken the sky!
#18. Eastern Tailed-Blue
- Eastern Tailed-Blue butterflies have a wingspan of 0.75 to 1 inch.
- Males and females have very different coloring on their upper wings. Males are brilliant blue with a brown border and white edges, and females are grayish-brown with white edges. Both sexes have one or two small orange spots above the wing tails.
Look for Eastern Tailed-Blue butterflies in Alabama in vacant lots, pastures, and home gardens.
They’re one of our most abundant species and easily attracted to flowers.
The easiest way to identify Eastern Tailed-Blues is by their hair-like tails on each of the hind wings. But, these often break off, so you may find some individuals without tails.
The silvery-blue color of the underside of their wings is another good sign that you’ve found an Eastern Tailed-Blue.
#19. Gray Hairstreak
- Gray Hairstreak butterflies have a wingspan of 1 to 1.5 inches.
- Their coloring is slate gray with a single bright orange spot on each lower wing. Below, their wings are light gray with a black and white stripe.
Look for Gray Hairstreak butterflies in open areas like roadsides, unused pasture, and rural meadows. Their caterpillars use many plants as hosts, so they’re common across many different habitats.
Gray Hairstreaks are one of a few butterflies in Alabama with thin, long wing tails that resemble hairs.
This adaptation is a defensive strategy that draws predators away from the butterfly’s body. By mimicking a head with antennae and using its eyespots as a distraction, Gray Hairstreaks give themselves time to escape!
#20. Banded Hairstreak
- Banded Hairstreak butterflies have a wingspan of 1 to 1.25 inches.
- Their coloring varies from brown to slate gray. In addition, they have black-bordered red dots along the outer edge of the wings, white stripes, and a blue patch near the wing tails.
Look for Banded Hairstreak butterflies in forested areas or sunny clearings near woods. Adult butterflies are drawn to nectar plants, so it should be pretty easy to attract this species if you live near a wooded area.
Planting dogbane or meadowsweet will help you have more sightings.
Adults are active for about four weeks in early summer, and they mate a single time during this active season. The eggs survive through summer, fall, and winter and hatch into caterpillars in the spring.
The caterpillars feed on oak, walnut, and hickory trees. Therefore, any area with these species is an excellent place to spot the Banded Hairstreak!
#21. Black Swallowtail
- Limenitis archippus
- Black Swallowtails have a wingspan of 2.5 to 4.25 inches.
- The coloring is black with rows of light yellow spots. It has one red-orange eyespot and several blue spots on each hind wing.
- Caterpillars are green with black bands containing yellow spots.
Black Swallowtails are one of the most common garden butterflies in Alabama.
They love flower nectar and frequently stop to drink on garden plants.
Their caterpillars use cultivated herbs like parsley and mint as host plants. They can sometimes be harmful to these plants if they feed too much, so keep an eye on your herb garden if you have Black Swallowtails around!
Black Swallowtails are excellent at mimicry, which is an evolutionary defense mechanism. They have developed markings similar to the Pipevine Swallowtail, which is toxic to most predators. In this way, Black Swallowtails can hide in plain sight!
#22. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
- Eastern Tiger Swallowtails have a wingspan of 3.5 to 5.5 inches.
- The coloring is variable based on sex. Males are always vibrant yellow with black stripes and borders. Females have two color forms:
- Light females are slightly darker yellow with more prominent black markings.
- Dark females are almost entirely black, with light blue speckling on the lower wings.
This species is one of the most striking butterflies in Alabama!
The bright coloring and large wings of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail make it easy to see and identify.
You’ll most often spot this butterfly on its own, since it’s a solitary flier. If you’re lucky, though, you might see a group of male Eastern Tiger Swallowtails “puddling,” grouped together on a patch of wet ground to drink water.
This species loves flowers and is easy to attract to home gardens. Try planting tall-stalked flowers like phlox, ironweed, and lilac in your yard.
One amazing feature of this species is the defense strategy of its caterpillar. It has enormous eyespots and an enlarged head that make it look like a snake to predators! Its appearance definitely says “back off!” even though it’s really harmless.
#23. Spicebush Swallowtail
- Spicebush Swallowtails have a wingspan of 3 to 4 inches.
- Their coloring is dark brown to black, with a border of cream-colored spots on the edge of the wings. In addition, the hind wings have a cloudy patch of either greenish-blue or bright blue.
- Caterpillars are bright yellow with rows of tiny green spots on the body and a prominent black eyespot ringed in white.
Spicebush Swallowtails are found in forests, swamps, and unused fields.
They have a long active season and are plentiful from late spring through early fall.
If you’re looking to attract this large and beautiful butterfly, try planting azaleas or jewelweed, which are two of its favorite nectar plants. The distinctive caterpillar of the Spicebush Swallowtail likes white sassafras and spicebush, which is how it got its name.
Spicebush Swallowtails have a unique talent among insects! They can regulate their body temperature using their coloring, which allows them to be active at colder temperatures than other swallowtail butterflies in Alabama.
#24. Cabbage White
- Pieris rapae
- Cabbage White Butterflies have a wingspan of 1.25 to 2 inches.
- The wings are light greenish to white, with black wing tips and black dots in the center of each wing. Males have one black dot on each side, and females have two.
- Caterpillars, sometimes called Cabbage Worms, are dark green with a light green stripe along the back.
Cabbage White butterflies are well-suited to almost any habitat in Alabama.
The only areas they avoid are dense forests with little room to fly. You can even see this species if you live in the city since they often live in very large metropolitan areas!
Look for Cabbage Whites in the summer, when they are most active and breeding. Their caterpillars, sometimes called Cabbage Worms, are a pest because they often overtake and eat cabbage, kale, nasturtium, and other brassica plants.
If you have a vegetable garden and see Cabbage Whites, you should pay extra attention to your plants to ensure these hungry insects don’t ruin them! In fact, Cabbage White butterflies are invasive in Alabama. This non-native species was transported here through the food and agricultural trade.
Since it’s so well-suited to our climate, its population has exploded and it’s now considered one of the most damaging invasive species to crops.
#25. Orange Sulphur
- Colias eurytheme
- Orange Sulphur Butterflies have a wingspan of 1.5 to 2.5 inches.
- Their coloring is bright yellow-orange with black borders on the wings and irregular black spots.
Look for Orange Sulfur butterflies in Alabama along sunny roadsides, meadows, and gardens.
Its preferred food and host plant is Alfalfa, which is how it got the nickname “Alfalfa butterfly”.
The easiest way to recognize an Orange Sulphur is by its flight pattern. They have an erratic, jerky flying style and usually stay low to the ground.
You’re likely to see this abundant and widespread species in urban and suburban environments during the spring and summer.
#26. Cloudless Sulphur
- Phoebis sennae
- Cloudless Sulphurs have a wingspan of 2.2 to 2.8 inches.
- Their coloring is unmarked, bright lemon-yellow.
Cloudless Sulphurs are one of the most recognized butterflies in Alabama!
This is because they’re so widespread and abundant in their habitat, and also because they aren’t shy around humans!
Cloudless Sulphurs are almost always pure yellow, with only a few markings on their wings. Sometimes a small white eyespot ringed in dark red can be spotted on their upper wings.
Unfortunately, this species has been impacted by habitat loss due to overdevelopment. While it isn’t considered a threatened species, the Cloudless Sulphur isn’t as prolific as it used to be. One way you can help is to plant flowers that are native to your area, which will naturally attract these cheerful butterflies!
#27. Little Sulphur
- Little Sulphur butterflies have a wingspan of 1 to 1.5 inches.
- The coloring is bright yellow with a black border or wing tip in males. Females have pale yellow wings with dark speckles and blotches.
- Caterpillars are deep green with a thin cream stripe on each side.
Look for Little Sulphurs in disturbed open areas like roadsides, vacant lots, and hiking trails. They’re also known as Little Yellows for their small size and bright yellow wings.
To attract them, try planting a local variety of aster whose nectar this species loves! Their caterpillars use the partridge pea as a host plant, so it’s a welcome addition to any butterfly garden.
Like many butterflies in Alabama, Little Sulphurs can be found year-round in warm climates. Further north, look for this butterfly from late June to early October.
Do you need more help identifying butterflies in Alabama?
Try this field guide!
Which of these butterflies have you seen in Alabama?
Leave a comment below!
If you enjoy this article, make sure to check out these other guides!
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24 Types of SPIDERS in Alabama!
32 Kinds of SNAKES That Live in Alabama! (Includes venomous species)