What are the 4 most common butterflies in Alabama right now?

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail – photo from the Alabama Butterfly Atlas

I have a confession to make.  When I was 6 years old, I wanted to be a butterfly doctor. 

Back then, in the 70s, I just loved seeing and following butterflies on my bike, and discovering them fluttering  in my family’s suburban backyard in Florence, Alabama.

Even though it never panned out as a career, the joy of watching and taking pictures of butterflies has always been a lifelong love of mine.

Alabama Butterfly Atlas

In some ways, here in Alabama, everyone can become a butterfly doctor thanks to the Alabama Butterfly Atlas.  

It is easy to use, especially for a beginner and the photos are fantastic. They will make you consider giving up Instagram because they are far more interesting. 

I strongly urge folks to bookmark  – Alabama Butterfly Atlas.  You won’t regret it.

Which Butterflies Are Out Right Now

Remember, at least in Alabama, “shelter in place” does not mean you can’t take walks (as long as it is not crowded), plant a garden and enjoy the outdoors. If you are looking to pick up a new hobby during this pandemic, I highly recommend learning about butterflies.

To get you started, I asked Sara Bright, the co-author of Alabama Butterflies – Glimpses into Their Lives, to provide Bham Now with a list of 4 butterflies that can be commonly seen right now in April.  

Here are four of her favorites, with her special descriptions. 


1.  Cloudless Sulphur  

Cloudless Sulphur Shelby – Photo by Sara Bright

This butterfly has an unusually long proboscis, or tongue-like feature.  This allows it to sip nectar from deep tubed flowers (generally known to be hummingbird favorites), like Trumpet Honeysuckle that is blooming now.

ID Tip: Large yellow wings with no solid black wing edges

2. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail 

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Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Photo by Sara Bright

The male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is yellow with black stripes, like a tiger, hence the name.  But, the female is less familiar, as she can be yellow or dark.  If she is yellow, she will have a row of blue scales that is absent on a male’s wing.  If she is dark, her wing will be charcoal with black, barely discernible stripes.

ID Tip: Background color may be yellow or black, but black stripes are visible, especially on the under surface.

3. Common Buckeye 

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Common Buckeye. Photo by Sara Bright

These can be found in many habitats.  But, they favor small open patches on the ground to be present.  The male butterflies will sit in these open patches and survey for females.  The male will actively defend this as his territory. Males will perch on low limbs as well.  If the butterfly darts out at you, move back from his perch a little bit.  He will return to the exact same spot.

ID Tip: Upperside displays striking, multicolored eyespots on forewings and hindwings.

4. Carolina Satyr 

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Carolina Satyr. Photo by Sara Bright

This is the small brown butterfly that you commonly see on a walk in the woods.  Seen up close, they are very pretty, if less showy than others.  Butterflies have no voice and can not hear.  But, this butterfly spends much of it’s time on the ground and can detect vibration, which is similar to the way our ears work. It’s visible if you can get a good look at the butterfly.  It’s is located at the base of their forewing, close to the head.  

ID Tip: Upper surfaces are plain and unmarked.

Learn More

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Photo of a Zebra Swallowtail egg courtesy of Sara Bright

According to Sara, volunteers are continuously adding to the Alabama Butterfly Atlas . See unclose – photos from the egg, caterpillar, chrysalis to a butterfly.

Fall in love with these beautiful creatures this spring.

Pat Byington
Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.

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