Colias philodice

Geographic Range

Clouded sulphurs are widespread across North America in the Nearctic region, occurring from the Arctic south to Guatamala. The subspecies Colias philodice vitabunda is found only in northern British Columbia to the Alaskan tundra. (Opler and Krizek, 1984; Scott, 1986)


Clouded sulphurs are best adapted to open areas such as moist meadows, lawns, and alfalfa and clover fields. (Opler and Krizek, 1984; Scott, 1986)

Physical Description

Adults are yellow, with submarginal dots on the undersides of the hindwings. There is one silver spot in the center of the hindwing with two red rings around it, and often there is a satellite spot. Females have a narrow black forewing border with light spots. The subspecies C. philodice vitabunda has mostly white females. The average wing measurement of female clouded sulphurs is 2.6 cm, and ranges from 2.2 cm - 3.1 cm; males range from 2.2 cm - 3.2 cm with an average of 2.4 cm. Clouded Sulphurs may hybridize with orange sulphurs (Colias eurydice). (Opler and Krizek, 1984; Scott, 1986)

Clouded sulphur eggs are cream colored when first deposited, then turn crimson in a day or two. The larvae are green, sometimes with pale yellow sides, with raised points and a faint green mid-dorsal line. There is a white lateral band on the larval body. (Scott, 1986)

The pupa is green with yellowish white and black mottling and a yellow band. (Scott, 1986)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • Range wingspan
    2.2 to 3.2 cm
    0.87 to 1.26 in
  • Average wingspan
    2.5 cm
    0.98 in


The last larvae of the year are reported to overwinter in the third stage (sometimes fourth). Other reports state that the clouded sulphurs overwinter as crysalis. (Opler and Krizek, 1984; Scott, 1986)


The mating system of clouded sulphurs has been well documented. As the male flies toward the female, she will land and the male will proceed to buffet his wings against her body, releasing pheremones that are produced in a gland in a patch on the upper surface of the hindwing. If the female detects the pheremone and it activates her responses, she will lower her abdomen and the pair will mate. Females will also approach males when they are ready to mate. (Scott, 1986)

As a male clouded sulphur flies toward a female, she will land and the male will proceed to buffet his wings against her body, releasing special communication chemicals (pheromomes) that are produced in a gland in a patch on the upper surface of the hindwing. If the female detects the pheremone and it activates her responses, she will lower her abdomen and the pair will mate. Females will also approach males when they are ready to mate. (Scott, 1986)

Females that are less than one hour old cannot differentiate between the pheremones of clouded and orange sulphurs. It is during this time that the most frequent hybridization occurs. Usually, only sterile females are produced. When there is a female clouded sulphur and a male orange sulphur, viable offspring are produced. (Scott, 1986)

There are several broods of clouded sulphurs from spring until fall, the actual number depending on the latitude. Colias philodice vitabunda flies mainly from June until mid-July. (Opler and Krizek, 1984; Scott, 1986)

  • Breeding interval
    Clouded suphurs are univoltine.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs from spring through fall, depending on the latitude.

Butterflies do not exhibit parental care.

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement


In Colorado, clouded sulphurs lived an average of 2-3 days, with the longest surviving 2 weeks. In Colorado, females lived 17 days and males 24 days (average 2-7 days). In Virginia, males lived for 17 days. (Scott, 1986)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    2 to 24 days
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    5 days
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    2 to 7 days
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    5 days


The flight pattern of clouded sulphurs is fairly rapid and sometimes erratic. They usually stay within one meter of the ground. Clouded sulphurs are well known for their mud-puddling behavior, - gathering in groups to sip from the mud in wet places. Most believe butterflies are seeking out salts and minerals from the water. (Iftner, et al., 1992)

Home Range

Their home ranges are from 40 to 100 acres in size. (Scott, 1986)

Communication and Perception

Clouded sulphurs use visual cues and pheremones to communicate with each other. (Scott, 1986)

Food Habits

The larval foodplants for clouded sulphurs are numerous, and most are members of the legume family. Species include milk vetch (Astralagus), clovers (Trifolium), wild indigo (Baptisia tinctoria), wild pea (Lathyrus leucanthus), trefoil (Lotus), lupine (Lupinus perinnis), alfalfa (Medicago), white sweet clover (Melilotus alba), and vetch (Vicia). (Scott, 1986)

Nectar plants are varied and include alfalfa (Medicago sativa), clovers (Trifolium), milkweed (Asclepias), self-heal (Prunella vulgaris), and teasel (Dipsacus sylvestris). (Scott, 1986)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • nectar


Predators of all life stages of butterflies include a variety of insect parasatoids. These wasps or flies will consume the body fluids first, and then eat the internal organs, ultimately killing the butterfly. Those wasps that lay eggs inside the host body include species in many different groups: Ichneumonidae, Braconidae, Pteromalidae, Chalcidoidea, Encyrtidae, Eulophidae, Scelionidae, Trichogrammatidae, and others. Trichogrammatids live inside the eggs, and are smaller than a pinhead. Certain flies (Tachinidae, some Sarcophagidae, etc.) produce large eggs and glue them onto the outside of the host larva, where the hatching fly larvae then burrow into the butterfly larvae. Other flies will lays many small eggs directly on the larval hostplants, and these are ingested by the caterpillars as they feed. (Scott, 1986)

Most predators of butterflies are other insects. Praying mantis, lacewings, ladybird beetles, assasin bugs, carabid beetles, spiders, ants, and wasps (Vespidae, Pompilidae, and others) prey upon the larvae. Adult butterflies are eaten by robber flies, ambush bugs, spiders, dragonflies, ants, wasps (Vespidae and Sphecidae), and tiger beetles. The sundew plant is known to catch some butterflies. (Scott, 1986)

There are also many vertebrate predators including lizards, frogs, toads, birds, mice, and other rodents. (Scott, 1986)

Ecosystem Roles

Clouded sulphurs function as prey for a variety of species, and also serve as minor pollinators.

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • pollinates

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Clouded sulphurs provide aesthetic benefits to humans, and many people enjoy watching them.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

This species is sometimes thought of as a pest species due to the larvae feeding on crop plants.

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

This species is common rangewide and receives no special protections.

Other Comments

Clouded and orange sulphurs exhibit chromosome polymorphism - genes controlling female mate choice, male pheremones, male ultraviolet reflection (in orange sulphurs only), orange or yellow color, width of the black forewing border size, and the rate of development are all located on the X chromosome, termed a "supergene". It has been found that nearly all differences between the two species occurs on this X chromosome. Female hybrids preferably mate with males of their fathers' species (orange sulphurs), thus the X chromosome stays with the appropriate species. (Scott, 1986)

The genus Colis is believed to be named after Kolias, the epithet of Venus (Greek mythology). The species may have been named after the sea nymph Phyllodoce. (Opler and Krizek, 1984)

Colias philodice philodice has had several common names, including clouded sulphur, bordered yellow butterfly, common sulphur, yellow clover butterfly, yellow sulphur, mud puddle butterfly and yellow butterfly. The subspecies C. philodice vitabunda is known as the lively clouded sulphur. (Maynard, 1891; Miller, 1992)


Matthew Wund (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Barb Barton (author), Special Contributors.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature


union of egg and spermatozoan


an animal that mainly eats leaves.


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


an animal that mainly eats nectar from flowers


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


Holland, W. 1931. The Butterfly Book. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran and Company.

Iftner, D., J. Shuey, J. Calhoun. 1992. Butterflies and Skippers of Ohio. Ohio Biological Survey Bulletin Vol 9 No 1.

Maynard, C. 1891. Manual of North American Butterflies. Boston, MA: DeWolfe, Fiske, and Company.

Miller, J. 1992. The Common Names of North American Butterflies. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institute Press.

Nielsen, M. 1999. Michigan Butterflies and Skippers. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Extension.

Opler, P., G. Krizek. 1984. Butterflies East of the Great Plains. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.

Scott, J. 1986. The Butterflies of North America: A Natural History and Field Guide. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.