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Montana Field Guides

Christina Sulphur - Colias christina

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S5

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General Description
Variously considered a subspecies of Colias alexandra, a subspecies of C. occidentalis, and a full species (Masters 1975; Scott 1986; Ferris 1993; Pyle 2002; Hammond and McCorkle 2003, 2008; Warren 2005). Perhaps the most appropriate term applied to members of this species complex, which includes C. christina, is "stenchospecies" for taxa that "will stink up every person studying them even if he does a thorough 'ideal' study" (Scott et al 2006:1). Given the taxonomic uncertainty and instability, this account probably includes information pertaining to more than one species.

[From Ferris and Brown 1981; Scott 1986; Ferris 1993; Opler and Wright 1999; Glassberg 2001; Scott et al. 2006] Forewing 2.4-2.9 cm. Fringes pink; wing coloration variable. Uppersurface of male forewing with over 2/3 orange, wing base yellow, sometimes with abrupt transition between colors but more often diffuse, border black; female coloration similar, or pale orange to white, border black to nearly no markings. Undersurface of forewing yellow, hindwing olive-green to greenish-orange, with a single reddish-rimmed cell spot, sometimes with faint to prominent submarginal spots.

One flight; mainly June to early August (Glassberg 2001). Late April to mid-July in Oregon (Warren 2005), June and July in British Columbia (Guppy and Shepard 2001), mid-June to late September in Montana (Scott et al. 2006).

Diagnostic Characteristics
Probably best distinguished by a combination of habitat and coloration: the uppersurface of male forewing with over 2/3 orange, wing base yellow, the transition abrupt to diffuse; females similar but paler to whitish. Undersurface of hindwing olive-green to greenish-orange, with a single reddish-rimmed cell spot, sometimes with faint to prominent submarginal spots.

Species Range
Montana Range

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Range Comments
Eastern Alaska and western Northwest Territories south through northeastern British Columbia, Alberta, southern Saskatchewan, southern Manitoba to northern Wyoming and the Black Hills region of western South Dakota (Opler and Wright 1999; Glassberg 2001); 1067 m to at least 1524 m elevation in Oregon (Warren 2005), to 2720 m elevation in Wyoming (Scott et al. 2006), to about 2500 m elevation in Alberta (Ezzeddine and Matter 2008). In Montana, reported under C. alexandra astraea (Kohler 1980), C. occidentalis christina and C. o. astraea (Stanford and Opler 1993), and most recently as C. christina christina and C. c. sacajawea (Guppy and Shepard 2001; Scott et al. 2006), mostly east of the continental divide in at least 19 counties in the western 1/2 of the state, to at least 2591 m elevation. Probably uncommon to common (Glassberg 2001).


Montane forest openings, open coniferous woodland, roadsides, power line corridors (Ferris 1993; Opler and Wright 1999; Glassberg 2001; Guppy and Shepard 2001; Warren 2005). Habitat in Montana not described but probably similar; in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, reported from meadows, fields, brush land, roadsides, forest clearings and edges, and sagebrush (Debinski and Pritchard 2002).

Food Habits
Larval food plants include Hedysarum (multiple species), Lathyrus (multiple species), Lupinus, Oxytropis, Thermopsis, possibly Vicea (Scott 1986; Ferris 1993; Guppy and Shepard 2001; Hammond and McCorkle 2003; Warren 2005). Adults feed on flower nectar (including Erigeron, Sedum, Solidago, Taraxacum) and mud (Ezzeddine and Matter 2008; Scott 2014).

Reproductive Characteristics
Limited information, given the taxonomic confusion of the species complex. Females lay eggs singly (perhaps as many as 600 eggs by a single female) on the upper surface of host plant leaves (Scott 1986). Eggs of C. occidentalis hatch in about 6-7 days (depending on temperature), reach L3 instar in about 17-20 days post egg-hatch then hibernate (enter diapause), develop further to L5 instar and pupate in about 20 days after exiting diapause in spring (depending on temperature); adults eclose (emerge from pupae) in about 7 weeks (James and Nunnallee 2011). Larvae of C. alexandra eat host plant leaves, build no nests, overwinter as larvae (Scott 1979; James and Nunnallee 2011). Males patrol throughout the day in open areas, valley bottoms, hillsides, in search of females (Scott 1975b, 1986).

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Citation for data on this website:
Christina Sulphur — Colias christina.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from