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Butterflies: new records for Alabama.


Three species of butterflies are herein added to the Alabama lepidopteran fauna: swamp metalmark, dusted skipper, and salt marsh skipper. Six other recently documented, but rare species for Alabama, are also discussed: Appalachian tiger swallowtail, Hessel's hairstreak, brown elfin, white-checkered skipper, broad-winged skipper, and cobweb skipper. Documentation is provided for each species as well as comments on habitat preference and behavior, where known.


While Alabama is relatively rich in its butterfly fauna, few scientific studies have been published on these fascinating lepidopterans. In 1838, Phillip Henry Gosse, an English naturalist, spent eight months in Pleasant Hill, Dallas County, AL (Mullen and Littleton, 2010). There, he studied the local insect fauna and produced meticulous watercolor paintings of local butterflies. He also studied and drew much of the local Alabama flora and other fauna of the state. He ultimately combined these works into an unpublished volume, Entomologia Alabamensis, on insect life in the state.

A little over a century later, Dr. Ralph Chermock, a biologist/naturalist at the University of Alabama, was the first to publish surveys of Alabama's butterflies by serving as a regional reporter for the Lepidopterists' Society (Chermock, 1953). During 1950-60, Chermock and his lepidopterist wife, Ottilie, collected butterflies in many states, including Alabama. Their collection of some 30,000 specimens is housed at the Alabama Museum of Natural History in Tuscaloosa.

Almost a half century later, during 2010, two popularized books on Alabama butterflies were published almost simultaneously (Bright and Ogard, 2010; and Howell and Charny, 2010). Bright and Ogard (2010) confined their book to the true butterflies (superfamily Papilionoidea), documenting 84 species, but did not include the moth-like skippers (superfamily Hesperioidea). Howell and Charny (2010) studied both the skippers and true butterflies, and obtained photographic documentation of 126 species. They also reported 13 additional species documented for Alabama, yielding a total of 139 species. Of these, there were 59 species of skippers and 80 species of true butterflies. Bright and Ogard (2010) documented seven species not reported by Howell and Charny (2010). Howell and Charney (2010) reported one true butterfly species that Bright and Ogard (2010) did not report. Therefore, in 2010, Alabama had a total of 147 known species of butterflies. The three new species records reported herein yield a total of 150 species of butterflies for our state.

The purpose of this paper is to present documentation for the three additional species of butterflies not previously confirmed for our state. Each species will be detailed below, along with six other rare species sightings. Comments will be made relative to each discovery outlining habitat, habits, and, in some cases, the host and nectar plants.


Swamp Metalmark -- Calephelis muticum (McAlpine, 1937). This species was first discovered in Alabama by Vitaly Charny on May 28, 2011, at the Cane Creek Canyon Nature Preserve, Colbert Co., AL (Charny et al., 2012). This site is approximately 300 miles from the species' nearest other known population in Kentucky. Bright and Ogard studied the life history of this species from June 2011 to January 2012 at the Cane Creek Nature Preserve. Females from the first flight oviposited on emerging flower stalks of Cirsium altissimum (L.) Hill (tall thistle), which serves as host plant at this site (Charny et al., 2012). During the next eight weeks, they found caterpillars of all instars, as well as one chrysalide, all on second-year host plants. Females from the second flight oviposited on non-flowering, first-year plants. This population produced multiple broods during the summer of 2011. A second flight was evident during late July/August. In October, Charny observed a third, partial brood, numbering only four individuals. The preferred habitat of the swamp metalmark in this area is open, sunny meadows under a broken forest canopy where the underlying calcareous soils and surrounding wetlands allow thick growth of the tall thistle. These forest openings are presently maintained by beavers that remove young sapling trees that spring up in the openings. This colony of swamp metalmarks is likely a glacial relict left in this optimal habitat in northwest Alabama as the glaciers retreated during the last Ice Age. Meanwhile other swamp metalmarks followed the glaciers northward to their present-day disjunct distributions in the grass/sedge wetlands in the upper Midwest, Ohio Valley and Ozark Mountains, and into northern Arkansas and western Kentucky. The Alabama colony is likely a fragile population that is presently protected from adverse impacts by living within the boundaries of Cane Creek Nature Preserve, an ecologically stable area established by Dr. and Mrs. Jim Lacefield. Without this refugium, the swamp metalmark would need state and federal protection.

Dusted Skipper -- A trytonopsis hianna (Scudder, 1868). This species was recently documented by Vitaly Charny on April 28, 2012, in Cleburne Co., AL, along Forest Service Road 554. Charny found the skipper in a disturbed reforestation site in Choccolocco Wildlife Management Area (WMA). The known habitats are upland long-leaf pine forest, especially burned-over areas. This is a wide-ranging species found over much of the U.S. east of the Rockies. The known habitats in other areas include grasslands, prairies, barrens, and old fields. In the Chocolocco WMA, its host plants are grasses: little bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium (Michx.) Nash, and big bluestem, Andropogon gerardii Vitman. Adults nectar from flowers including blackberry, wild strawberry, Japanese honeysuckle, wild hyacinth, phlox, vervain, and red clover. Males perch on or near the ground during the daytime and watch for receptive females. Caterpillars eat the grass leaves and live in tents of leaves held together by silk threads. Fully grown caterpillars hibernate and pupate in a sealed nest at the base of the host plant. Charny observed that the cobweb skipper (Hesperia metea), a rare skipper for Alabama, was a commonly associated species with the dusted skipper, and was found in the same habitat at the Chocolocco WMA.

Salt Marsh Skipper -- Panoquina panoquin (Scudder, 1863). This species was first documented by Vitaly Charny from the salt marshes of Dauphin Island, Mobile Co., AL, on September 17, 2010. This species was predicted to occur in Alabama since its known distribution was along the immediate Atlantic coastline from New York, south to the Florida Keys, and west along the Gulf coast to southern Texas. The previous absence from Alabama was likely due to the failure of butterfly enthusiasts to recognize, report, or document the species. As its name implies, it inhabits salt marshes where its caterpillar host plant, Distichlis spicata (L.) Green (seashore saltgrass), abounds. While it prefers the coastal salt and brackish marshes, it occasionally is found in nearby fields and wood edges. The adults nectar from flowers including fogfruit, salt marsh fleabane, blue mistflower, thistle, verbena, red clover, and sweet pepperbush. Due to the favorable climatic conditions of the area, there are likely several broods from March through November.

Appalachian Swallowtail -- Papilio appalachiensis (Pavulaan and Wright, 2002). This species was discovered in May 2008 in Alabama's Appalachian foothills in the mountains of northeast Jackson County by Bright and Ogard (2010). Interestingly, the species has only recently been described by Pavulaan and Wright (2002). This species had long been confused with the Eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus). However, the Appalachian tiger swallowtail can be almost twice the size of the Eastern tiger swallowtail, has straighter wing margins, paler yellow with less intense blue on the hindwing, and yellow markings on the hindwing that form a triangle. Kunte et al (2011) recently used genetic analysis to confirm that the Appalachian tiger swallowtail arose through hybridization of two other species: the more northerly and montane Canadian tiger swallowtail (Papilio canadensis), and the more southerly and lowland Eastern tiger swallowtail. Their data indicated that P. appalachiensis inherited the sex chromosome associated with the cold, montane habitat from P. canadensis, whereas it inherited the sex chromosome associated with mimicry (of the toxic pipevine swallowtail, Battus philenor), and its dimorphism, from P. glaucus. This is a rare case of speciation through hybridization in animals. Kunte et al. (2011) estimated that the divergence of the parental swallowtails (P. glaucus and P. canadensis) and the hybrid species, P. appalachiensis, took place during the last interglacial period in North America, between 90,000 and 100,000 years before present.

Hessel's Hairstreak -- Callophrys hesseli (Rawson and Ziegler, 1950). This unique, green-colored hairstreak was discovered by Sara Bright and Paulette Ogard on March 31, 2010 in Baldwin Co., AL, near the community of Seminole, along Lost River Road, near Co. Rd. 91. Bright and Ogard (2010) stated that the caterpillars of Hessel's hairstreak feed exclusively on Chamaecyparis thyoides (L.) Britton, Sterns and Poggenb. (Atlantic white cedar), a species that, in Alabama, is currently only known from Baldwin, Mobile, Washington, and Escambia counties. These trees are found in wetlands where they require both fire and flooding for regeneration. The caterpillars are green and are excellently camouflaged amongst the green cedar foliage. Two broods occur, one in the spring, and the other in summer; August sightings of fresh individuals indicate the possibility of at least a partial third brood. The brown chysalide overwinters. Adults nectar, on blossoms of Cyrilla racemiflora L. (black titi), a shrub which often grows in wetlands near the cedar tree host. Adult Hessel's hairstreaks spend most of their time in the tops of the cedar trees, fighting and searching for mates. They occasionally descend in order to nectar on black titi that grows along the roadsides. This species should be looked for in other Alabama counties with relict stands of Atlantic white cedar. Existing stands of Atlantic white cedar should be considered for protection by state and federal agencies that are responsible for saving our rare and valuable natural resources.

Brown Elfin -- Callophrys augustinus (Westwood, 1852). Howell and Charny (2010) did not document, photograph, or have proof of observation of this species in Alabama. However, Bright and Ogard (2010) included the species because of an old record from Cullman Co., AL, the only documentation known to exist. On March 2, 2011, Wayne Barger and Brian Holt of Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Natural Heritage Section, documented this species on the Red Hills Forever Wild Tract in Monroe Co., AL. Vitaly Charny then accompanied Barger and Holt to the area on March 12, 2012 and again found the species there. Later, in 2012, Vitaly Charny discovered the species in Tannehill State Park, Tuscaloosa Co., AL, in an area had recently received prescribed fires to remove underbrush in the pine forest habitats. These burned-over areas supported vigorous growths of low-growing evergreen heaths such as blueberries and laurels. The brown elfin was associated with these disturbed habitats and its low-growing plant life. Indeed, its host plants are members of the Heath family--herbs, shrubs, and trees that flourish in acidic soils found in the burned areas. The larvae feed on the flower buds, blossoms, and leaves of blueberries and mountain laurel. Bright and Ogard (personal comm.) documented mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) as the host plant at the Tannehill site. The brown elfin, like all elfins, produces only one brood per year and flies only during spring, usually March and April. Adults nectar on blossoms from a variety of plants including blueberries, phloxes, plums, and redbuds. The brown chrysalides remain among ground litter and represent the overwintering stage in the life cycle of the brown elfin.

White checkered-Skipper -- Pyrgus albescens (Plotz, 1884). This cryptic species was first observed and collected on October 21, 2010 by Brian Holt and Wayne Barger on the Old Cahawba Forever Wild tract, Dallas Co., AL. Their specimen was later verified as Pyrgus albescens on December 31, 2010 by Dr. Andy Warren of the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity, Florida Museum of Natural History, Gainesville. This is the only verified record for Alabama. However, this species most likely will be found in several southern counties in Alabama. One of the reasons that this species has gone undetected in Alabama is the fact that it appears superficially identical to its sister-species, the common checkered-skipper (Pyrgus communis). P. albescens is paler than P. communis. Also, the upperside of the P. albescens male is blue-gray while that of the female is black, and males often have complete black checks in the wing fringes. However, there is much variation in both species, and the two can only be separated by microscopic examination of the male genitalia. Although its host plant has not been documented, it was expected to occur in Alabama as it is a wide-ranging species found from California to Florida. Adults nectar on flowers from a wide variety of plants. It is found in open sunny places along roadsides, yards, prairies, fields, gardens, and low deserts. There, it may be observed flying above low vegetation as it seeks nectar sources.

Broad-winged Skipper -- Poanes viator (W. H. Edwards, 1865). Previously, three undocumented records had been reported for this species: near Huntsville, west of Jasper, and immediately west of Mobile. The undocumented record from Mobile, AL was posted on the Butterflies of Alabama FaceBook page by Patsy Russo during 2011. Charny saw that photograph and identified her butterfly as the broad-winged skipper. Charny visited the Mobile area and found the broad-winged skipper along Viaduct Road, Chickasaw, Mobile Co., AL, on August 11, 2012, where it was associated with stands of Phragmites australis (Cay.) Trin, ex Steud, (common reed) near freshwater and saltwater marshes. The Broad-winged skipper is mostly an Atlantic and Gulf coastal species, but may be found in wetland habitats almost anywhere east of the Rocky Mountains, being conspicuously absent from the drier prairie and grassland states. The host plant for the inland populations is Carex lacustris Willd, (hairy sedge), while it prefers P. australis (common reed) in coastal populations. Charny found adults nectaring on Cephalanthus occidentalis L. (common buttonbush).

Cobweb Skipper -- Hesperia metea (Scudder, 1863). This species was recently documented by Vitaly Chamy on March 25 and April 1, 2012, in Cleburne Co., AL, along Forest Service Road 554. Sara Bright had earlier obtained photographic documentation of a cobweb skipper at Oak Mountain State Park, Shelby Co., AL, on April 7, 2008, but did not report it at that time. Her specimen was nectaring on Nothoscordum bivalve (L.) Bretton (false garlic). An unconfirmed record for the state was found near Scottsboro, AL. Perhaps the reason that this skipper has gone unnoticed in our butterfly fauna is because of its habitat and complex life cycle. According to Heitzman and Heitzman (1969), this fire-adapted/dry meadow skipper is very specialized in host plant and habitat requirements. It uses Schizarchrium scoparium (Michx.) Nash (little bluestem) and Andropogon gerardii Vitman (big bluestem) grasses as host plants. The skipper is never as abundant as its host grasses, which are common throughout Alabama. Apparently, the first few instar caterpillars feed only at night and remain hidden during the daytime. The later instars live within the base of the bluestem grass clumps. There they tunnel below ground level protected from fires, and aestivate during late summer (Shapiro, 1974). When fall approaches, the mature caterpillar moves to the thick center of leaf blades at the base of the grass bundle and spins a chamber thickly lined with silk in which it hibernates. Larval mortality is believed to be very high, and according to Shapiro (1965), the cobweb skipper only flies between May and mid-June. For his study, Shapiro studied only northern populations (Pennsylvania and New Jersey); the Alabama populations likely fly earlier, possibly April to mid-May. This earlier flight time means that the adults are dependent on early blooming nectar sources such as wild geranium, wild strawberry, violets, and heaths. This species should be looked for in Alabama on dry ridge tops with pine trees and open area habitats that support abundant growth of bluestem grasses and frequent forest fires.


Bright, S. and P. H. Ogard. 2010. Butterflies of Alabama: Glimpses into Their Lives. The University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, AL, 486 pp.

Charny, V., P. H. Ogard, and S.Bright. 2012. Swamp metalmarks (Calephelis muticum) found in Alabama. News of the Lepidopterists' Society, 54 (2): 44-45.

Chermock, R. L. 1953. Season summary of North American lepidoptera for 1952: Southeast. Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society, 7 (3-4): 102-106.

Heitzman, J. R. and R. L. Heitzman. 1969. Hesperia metea Life History Studies (Hesperiidae). Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera 8 (4): 187-193. (1970).

Howell, W. M., and V. Chamy. 2010. Butterflies of Alabama. Pearson Learning Solutions, A Pearson Education Company, Boston, MA, 510 pp.

Kunte, K, C. Shea, M. L. Aardema, J. M. Scriber, T. E. Juenger, et al. (2011). Sex chromosome mosaicism and hybrid speciation among tiger swallowtail butterflies. PLoS Genet. 7(9):e1002274 doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1002274.

Mullen, G. R., and T. D. Littleton. 2010. Phillip Henry Gosse: Science and Art in Letters from Alabama and Entomologia Alabamensis. The University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, AL, 134 pp.

Pavulaan, H., and D. M. Wright. 2002. Pterourus appalachiensis (Papilionidae: Papilioninae), a new swallowtail butterfly from the Appalachian region of the United States. The Taxonomic Report of the International Lepidoptera Survey 3 (7): 1-20.

Shapiro, A. M. 1965. Ecological and behavioral notes on Hesperia metea and Atrytonopsis hianna [Hesperiidae]. Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society 19 (4): 215-222.

Shapiro, A.M. 1974. Butterflies and Skippers of New York State. Cornell University, College of Ag and Life Sciences, Ithaca, NY, Search Agriculture, 4 (3): 1-60.

Sara Bright, Vitaly Charny, and W. Mike Howell

Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences Samford University, Birmingham, AL 35229

Correspondence: W. M. Howell (
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Author:Bright, Sara; Charny, Vitaly; Howell, W. Mike
Publication:Journal of the Alabama Academy of Science
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2013
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