North American Ecology (US and Canada)
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.
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )
occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) Most of subarctic North America, with the exception of Florida and the Pacific coast. Also present in Guatemalan mountains.
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).
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.
The pupa is green with yellowish white and black mottling and a yellow band.
Range wingspan: 2.2 to 3.2 cm.
Average wingspan: 2.5 cm.
Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; heterothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: sexes colored or patterned differently
Clouded sulphurs are best adapted to open areas such as moist meadows, lawns, and alfalfa and clover fields.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland
Other Habitat Features: suburban ; agricultural
Comments: A great variety of open habitats, almost all unnatural eastward as are many in the west. Openings in pine barrens and oak savannas are among the few natural habitats eastward.
Non-Migrant: No. All populations of this species make significant seasonal migrations.
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
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).
Nectar plants are varied and include alfalfa (Medicago sativa), clovers (Trifolium), milkweed (Asclepias), self-heal (Prunella vulgaris), and teasel (Dipsacus sylvestris).
Plant Foods: leaves; nectar
Primary Diet: herbivore (Folivore , Nectarivore )
Flowering Plants Visited by Colias philodice in Illinois
(observations are from Robertson, Graenicher, Betz et al., Hilty, Fothergill & Vaughn; this butterfly is the Clouded Sulfur; because Robertson and Graenicher did not distinguish Colias philodice from Colias eurytheme, some of their observations undoubtedly apply to the latter species; the common name of this latter butterfly is the Orange Sulfur)
Alismataceae: Sagittaria latifolia [pist sn] (Rb); Apiaceae: Cicuta maculata sn (Rb), Eryngium yuccifolium sn (Rb), Osmorhiza longistylis sn (Rb), Zizia aurea sn (Rb); Asclepiadaceae: Asclepias incarnata [plpr sn] [plup sn] (Rb, Btz), Asclepias purpurascens [plab sn] (Rb), Asclepias sullivanti [plpr sn] (Rb), Asclepias syriaca [plab] (Rb), Asclepias tuberosa [plpr sn] (Rb), Asclepias verticillata [plab] (Rb); Asteraceae: Antennaria plantaginifolia [stam sn] [pist sn] (Rb), Anthemis cotula sn (Gr), Arctium lappa sn (Gr), Arctium minus sn (Rb), Aster furcatus sn (Gr), Aster laevis sn (Gr), Aster lanceolatus sn (Rb), Aster novae-angliae (Rb, Gr, H), Aster pilosus sn fq (Rb), Aster prenanthoides sn (Gr), Aster puniceus sn (Gr), Aster salicifolius sn fq (Rb), Bidens aristosa sn (Rb), Bidens cernua sn fq (Rb), Boltonia asterioides sn (Rb), Cirsium hillii sn (Rb), Cirsium vulgare sn (Rb), Conoclinium coelestinum sn fq (Rb), Coreopsis palmata sn (Rb), Echinacea pallida sn (Rb), Echinacea purpurea sn (Rb), Eupatoriadelphus purpureus sn (Rb, Gr), Eupatorium perfoliatum sn (Rb), Eupatorium serotinum sn (Rb), Euthamia graminifolia sn (Rb, Gr), Helenium autumnale sn (Rb), Helianthus divaricatus sn (Rb), Helianthus giganteus sn (Gr), Helianthus grosseserratus sn (Rb), Helianthus mollis sn (Rb), Helianthus strumosus sn (Rb, Gr), Helianthus tuberosus sn (Rb), Heliopsis helianthoides sn (Gr), Krigia biflora sn (Rb), Liatris aspera sn (Rb), Liatris pycnostachya sn fq (Rb), Liatris spicata sn (Gr), Ratibida pinnata sn (Gr), Rudbeckia hirta sn (Rb), Rudbeckia subtomentosa sn (Rb), Rudbeckia triloba sn (Rb), Silphium laciniatum sn fq (Rb), Silphium perfoliatum sn (Rb), Solidago canadensis sn (Rb), Solidago nemoralis sn (Rb), Tanacetum vulgare sn (Gr), Vernonia fasiculata sn (Rb); Boraginaceae: Lithospermum canescens sn fq (Rb); Brassicaceae: Cardamine bulbosa sn (Rb); Caprifoliaceae: Symphoricarpos occidentalis sn (Gr); Caryophyllaceae: Cerastium nutans sn (Rb); Fabaceae: Astragalus crassicarpus trichocalyx sn np (Rb), Dalea purpurea sn (Rb), Lespedeza capitata sn np (Rb), Lespedeza virginica sn np (Rb), Trifolium pratense sn (Rb, FV), Trifolium repens sn (Rb); Geraniaceae: Geranium maculatum sn (Rb); Lamiaceae: Blephilia ciliata sn (Rb), Blephilia hirsuta sn fq (Rb), Glechoma hederacea sn fq np (Rb), Lycopus americanus sn (Rb), Monarda fistulosa sn (Rb), Nepeta cataria sn (Rb), Prunella vulgaris sn (Rb), Pycnanthemum tenuifolium sn (Rb), Teucrium canadense sn (Rb); Liliaceae: Camassia scilloides sn fq (Rb), Erythronium albidum sn (Rb), Nothoscordum bivalve sn (Rb); Lythraceae: Lythrum alatum sn (Rb); Malvaceae: Hibiscus trionum sn (Rb), Sida spinosa sn (Rb); Oxalidaceae: Oxalis violacea sn (Rb); Polemoniaceae: Phlox divaricata laphamii sn (Rb), Phlox glaberrima sn (Rb), Phlox pilosa sn fq (Rb), Polemonium reptans sn fq (Rb); Polygonaceae: Persicaria pensylvanica sn (Rb); Pontederiaceae: Pontederia cordata sn (Rb); Portulacaceae: Claytonia virginica sn (Rb); Ranunculaceae: Delphinium tricorne sn np (Rb), Ranunculus fascicularis sn (Rb); Rosaceae: Fragaria virginiana sn (Rb), Rubus allegheniensis sn (Rb), Rubus flagellaris sn (Rb); Rubiaceae: Cephalanthus occidentalis sn (Rb); Salicaceae: Salix nigra [stam sn] (Rb); Scrophulariaceae: Agalinis tenuifolia sn np (Rb), Collinsia verna sn np (Rb), Linaria vulgaris sn np (Rb), Lindernia dubia sn (Rb), Penstemon digitalis sn np (Rb), Physostegia virginiana sn np (Rb); Verbenaceae: Phyla lanceolata sn (Rb), Verbena hastata sn (Rb), Verbena stricta sn (Rb); Violaceae: Viola cucullata sn (Rb), Viola pedata sn (Rb), Viola pubescens sn (Rb), Viola sagittata sn (Rb), Viola striata sn np (Rb)
Clouded sulphurs function as prey for a variety of species, and also serve as minor pollinators.
Ecosystem Impact: pollinates
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.
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.
There are also many vertebrate predators including lizards, frogs, toads, birds, mice, and other rodents.
- ichneumon flies and ichneumon wasps (Ichneumonidae)
- brachonid wasps (Braconidae)
- pteromalid wasps (Pteromalidae)
- chalcidoid wasps (Chalcidoidea)
- encyrtid wasps (Encyrtidae)
- eulophid wasps (Eulophidae)
- scelionid wasps (Scelionidae)
- trichogrammatid wasps (Trichogrammatidae)
- Tachinid flies (Tachinidae)
- praying mantises (Orthodera novaezealandiae)
- lacewings and relatives (Neuroptera)
- lady beetles and ladybird beetles (Coccinellidae)
- assassin bugs (Reduviidae)
- ground beetles (Carabidae)
- spiders (Araneae)
- ants (Formicidae)
- "ants, bees, and wasps (Hymenoptera)"
- robber flies (Asilidae)
- ambush bugs (Phymatidae)
- dragonflies and damselflies (Odonata)
- social wasps (Vespidae)
- "cicadakillers, mud daubers, sand wasps, and sphecid wasps (Sphecidae)"
- beetles (Coleoptera)
- lizards (Sauria)
- frogs (Anura)
- birds (Aves)
- "mice, rats, and relatives (Muridae)"
- rodents (Rodentia)
Number of Occurrences
Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.
Estimated Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300
10,000 to >1,000,000 individuals
Life History and Behavior
Clouded sulphurs use visual cues and pheremones to communicate with each other.
Communication Channels: visual ; chemical
Other Communication Modes: pheromones
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; chemical
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.
Development - Life Cycle: metamorphosis
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.
Status: wild: 2 to 24 days.
Status: wild: 5 days.
Status: wild: 2 to 7 days.
Status: wild: 5 days.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Breeding interval: Clouded suphurs are univoltine.
Breeding season: Breeding occurs from spring through fall, depending on the latitude.
Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; sexual ; fertilization (Internal ); oviparous
Butterflies do not exhibit parental care.
Parental Investment: no parental involvement
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Colias philodice
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Colias philodice
Public Records: 6
Specimens with Barcodes: 122
Species With Barcodes: 1
This species is common rangewide and receives no special protections.
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
State of Michigan List: no special status
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Reasons: Abundant in U.S. and Canada. Occasional economic pest of clover and alfalfa fields.
Degree of Threat: D : Unthreatened throughout its range, communities may be threatened in minor portions of the range or degree of variation falls within natural variation
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
This species is sometimes thought of as a pest species due to the larvae feeding on crop plants.
Negative Impacts: crop pest
Clouded sulphurs provide aesthetic benefits to humans, and many people enjoy watching them.
Positive Impacts: ecotourism
The upper side of the male's wings is yellow with black borders. The upper side of the female's wings is either yellow or greenish-white with yellow- or white-spotted black borders. The underside of the male's wings is yellow while the female's is yellow or greenish-white, and both have a double hind wing spot trimmed in brownish-red. Its wingspan 32 to 54 mm.
- White form
This species has a white form which can be confused with a Pieris rapae.
This butterfly may be encountered in fields, lawns, Alfalfa or Clover fields, meadows, and roadsides. Swarms of these butterflies will congregate at mud puddles. They range over most of North America with the exception of Labrador, Nunavut, and northern Quebec.
Clouded Sulphurs nectar at flowers such as Milkweed (Asclepias sp.), Butterfly Bush (Buddleja sp.), Coneflower (Dracopis, Echinacea, and Rudbeckia), Alfalfa (Medicago sativa), Dandelion (Taraxacum sp.), Clover (Trifolium sp.), and Tall verbena (Verbena bonariensis) and many more.
Ground-Plum (Astragalus crassicarpus), Platte River Milk-Vetch (Astragalus plattensis), Soy-Bean (Glycine max), Deer-Vetch (Lotus spp.), Alfalfa (Medicago sativa), White Sweet-Clover (Melilotus albus), Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), White Clover (Trifolium repens), Red Clover (Trifolium pratense), Vetch (Vicia spp.)
The pale yellow eggs are laid singly on the host plants. The eggs turn red after a few days, then turn gray just before they hatch. The young larvae will eat one another. The larva is green with a white stripe running along each side of the body. The white stripes may contain bars or lines of pink or orange. The green chrysalis hangs up right by a silken girdle. Just before eclosion, the chrysalis turns yellow with a pink "zipper".
Male nectaring on Red Clover
Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Although this species hybridizes with COLIAS EURYTHEME, it is considered distinct.
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