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Montana Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Checkered White - Pontia protodice

Native Species

Global Rank: G4
State Rank: S4

Agency Status


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General Description
[From Ferris and Brown 1981; Scott 1986; Opler and Wright 1999; Glassberg 2001; Pyle 2002] Forewing 2.0-2.8 cm. Uppersurface base color white, male with black checkered pattern on outer half of forewing and black cell mark, white on hindwing; female more heavily checkered, markings more brown and diffuse, including hindwing. Undersurface may be yellow-veined with brown or olive submarginal chevrons, male faintly checkered on hindwing, female with yellow-tan markings on hindwing and forewing apex; both sexes with black cell mark present. Spring and fall ("short-day") form with hindwing veins on the undersurface outlined in gray-green.

Many flights, early spring through fall (Scott 1986). Mainly February to November, except mostly July and August in Canada and Pacific Northwest (Glassberg 2001). Early spring to late fall in the Rocky Mountain states (Ferris and Brown 1981), early April to late October in Colorado (Scott and Scott 1978), early June to late September in Oregon and Washington (Pyle 2002), late May to early October in Oregon (Warren 2005), mid-summer to late fall in British Columbia and Alberta (Guppy and Shepard 2001).

Diagnostic Characteristics
Best determined by a combination of white uppersurface more or less marked with black, charcoal, or brown checks, bars, chevrons; undersurface of hindwing and forewing apex may be with yellow vein markings with brown or olive submarginal chevrons. Paler, thinner markings along veins, and habitat, also useful for separating similar-appearing species.

Species Range
Montana Range Range Descriptions


Range Comments
Permanent resident in the southern US and northern Mexico east to the Atlantic Coast (from central California east to southeastern Colorado and southern Nebraska in the western US), immigrant in the northern US and southern Canada from southeastern British Columbia to the Atlantic Coast, absent from most of New England (Scott 1986; Opler and Wright 1999; Glassberg 2001); mostly below 3048 m elevation in the Rocky Mountain states (Brown 1957; Ferris and Brown 1981), 1311 m to 3764 m elevation but probably non-breeding above 2743 m in Colorado (Scott and Scott 1978), 76 m to at least 2134 m elevation in Oregon (Warren 2005). In Montana, reported from most counties across the state (Kohler 1980; Stanford and Opler 1993; FLMNH Lepidopterists' Society database). Common across much of range, uncommon in most of Canada, rare in Pacific Northwest (Glassberg 2001).

Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 13

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density



(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

Partly migratory; resident in the western US in the south (southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas), occurring only as non-overwintering immigrants farther north in the range, including the Pacific Northwest and Montana (Scott 1986; Guppy and Shepard 2001; James and Nunnallee 2011).

Open areas, montane meadows, agricultural fields, weedy fields, arid lands, desert, prairie, suburbs, disturbed sites (Ferris and Brown 1981; Scott 1986; Opler and Wright 1999; Glassberg 2001). In Glacier National Park, Montana reported from montane mesic meadows and above treeline in alpine terrain (Debinski 1993); in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, reported from fields, roadsides, vacant lots, cultivated lands, disturbed areas (Debinski and Pritchard 2002).

Food Habits
Larval food plants primarily introduced and native mustards, including Arabis, Barbarea, Berteroa, Brassica (several species), Cakile, Capsella, Cardaria, Caulanthus, Chorispora, Descurainia, Hersperis, Hirschfeldia, Lepidium (several species), Lobularia, Malcolmia, Physaria, Raphanus, Rorippa, Schoenocrambe, Selenia, Sinapis, Sisymbrium, Thelypodium, and Thlaspi, as well as some non-mustard taxa, including Cleome, Nasturtium, Reseda, and Wislizenia (Emmel et al. 1970; Scott 1986, 1992, 2006; Graves and Shapiro 2003). Adults feed on flower nectar (including Abronia, Achillea, Allium, Ammannia, Apocynum, Arctium, Arnica, Asclepias, Astragalus, Berteroa, Bidens, Blephilia, Boltonia, Campanula, Centaurea, Chorispora, Chrysanthemum, Chrysothamnus, Cirsium, Cleome, Convolvulus, Coreopsis, Cosmos, Cryptantha, Delphinium, Descurainia, Dipsacus, Echimacea, Epilobium, Erigenia, Erigeron, Eriogonum, Eryngium, Erysimum, Eupatorium, Euryops, Grindelia, Helianthus, Hesperis, Heterotheca, Hymenopappus, Lavandula, Lepidium, Limonium, Linum, Lobelia, Lygodesmia, Machaeranthera, Medicago, Melephora, Melilotus, Myosotis, Nepeta, Orbexilum, Oxalis, Potentilla, Prunella, Psoralea, Pycnanthemum, Rudbeckia, Salvia, Sedum, Senecio, Solidago, Sphaeralcea, Spiraea, Symphyotrichum, Tagetes, Taraxacum, Thelesperma, Tribulus, Verbena, Verbesina, Veronica, Zinnia) and mud (Tooker et al. 2002; Scott 2014).

Reproductive Characteristics
Females lay eggs singly (50 eggs reported for one captive female) on host plant infloresences, flower buds, tops and bottoms of leaves, stems; live about 7 days as adults in the wild (Scott 1986, 1992, 2006; James and Nunnallee 2011). Eggs per ovariole (1/8 total number) about 140 (Ehrlich and Ehrlich 1978). Eggs hatch in about 3 days post egg-laying (depending on temperature), develop to L5 instar and pupate in about 15-16 days, adults eclose (emerge from pupae) in about 10 days, males emerging a few days before females (James and Nunnallee 2011). Larvae solitary, prefer to feed on flower buds, flowers, fruits, but feed on all parts of host plants, build no nest, overwinter as pupae (Scott 1979, 1986, 1992; James and Nunnallee 2011). Males patrol hilltops and flats near host plants in search of females (Scott 1975b, 1986).

  • Literature Cited AboveLegend:   View Online Publication
    • Brown, F.M. 1957. Colorado Butterflies. Proceedings; Numbers Three through Seven. Denver Museum of Natural History, Denver, Co.
    • Debinski, D. 1993. Butterflies of Glacier National Park, Montana. Occasional Papers of the Museum of Natural History, the University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas. No. 159: 1-13.
    • Debinski, D.M. and J.A. Pritchard. 2002. A field guide to the butterflies of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Lanham, MD: Roberts Rinehart Publishers. 107 p.
    • Ehrlich, A.H. and P.R. Ehrlich. 1978. Reproductive strategies in the butterflies: I. Mating frequency, plugging, and egg number. Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society 51(4): 666-697.
    • Emmel, J.F., O. Shields, and D.E. Breedlove. 1970. Larval foodplant records for North American Rhopalocera Part 2. Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera 9(4): 233-242.
    • Ferris, C.D. and F.M. Brown (eds). 1981. Butterflies of the Rocky Mountains. Univ. of Oklahoma Press. Norman. 442 pp.
    • Glassberg, J. 2001. Butterflies through Binoculars: A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Western North America. Oxford University Press.
    • Graves, S.D. and A.M. Shapiro. 2003.Exotics as host plants of the California butterfly fauna. Biological Conservation 110: 413-433.
    • Guppy, C.S. and J.H. Shepard. 2001. Butterflies of British Columbia: including western Alberta, southern Yukon, the Alaska Panhandle, Washington, northern Oregon, northern Idaho, northwestern Montana. UBC Press (Vancouver, BC) and Royal British Columbia Museum (Victoria, BC). 414 pp.
    • James, D.G. and D. Nunnallee. 2011. Life histories of Cascadia butterflies. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Press. 447 p.
    • Kohler, S. 1980. Checklist of Montana Butterflies (Rhopalocera). Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society 34(1): 1-19.
    • Opler, P.A. and A.B. Wright. 1999. A field guide to western butterflies. Second edition. Peterson Field Guides. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts. 540 pp.
    • Pyle, R.M. 2002. The butterflies of Cascadia: a field guide to all the species of Washington, Oregon, and surrounding territories. Seattle Audubon Society, Seattle, Washington. 420 pp.
    • Scott, J.A. 1975b. Mate-locating behavior of western North American butterflies. Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera 14:1-40.
    • Scott, J.A. 1979. Hibernal diapause of North American Papilionoidea and Hesperioidea. Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera 18(3): 171-200.
    • Scott, J.A. 1986. The butterflies of North America: a natural history and field guide. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California.
    • Scott, J.A. 1992. Hostplant records for butterflies and skippers (mostly from Colorado) 1959-1992, with new life histories and notes on oviposition, immatures, and ecology. Papilio new series #6. 185 p.
    • Scott, J.A. 2006. Butterfly hostplant records, 1992-2005, with a treatise on the evolution of Erynnis, and a note on new terminology for mate-locating behavior. Papilio new series #14. 74 p.
    • Scott, J.A. 2014. Lepidoptera of North America 13. Flower visitation by Colorado butterflies (40,615 records) with a review of the literature on pollination of Colorado plants and butterfly attraction (Lepidoptera: Hersperioidea and Papilionoidea). Contributions of the C.P. Gillette Museum of Arthopod Diversity. Fort Collins, CO: Colorado State University. 190 p.
    • Scott, J.A. and G.R. Scott. 1978. Ecology and distribution of the butterflies of southern central Colorado. Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera 17(2): 73-128.
    • Stanford, R.E. and P.A. Opler. 1993. Atlas of western USA butterflies: including adjacent parts of Canada and Mexico. Unpubl. Report. Denver and Fort Collins, Colorado 275 pp.
    • Tooker, J.F., P.F. Reagel, and L.M. Hanks. 2002. Nectar sources of day-flying lepidoptera of central Illinois. Annals of the Entomological Society of America 95(1): 84-96.
    • Warren, A.D. 2005. Lepidoptera of North America 6: Butterflies of Oregon, their taxonomy, distribution, and biology. Contributions of the C. P. Gillette Museum of Arthropod Diversity, Colorado State University. Fort Collins, Colorado. 406 pp.
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View Online Publication
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    • Allen, T.J., J.P. Brock, and J. Glassberg. 2005. Caterpillars in the field and garden: a field guide to the butterfly caterpillars of North America. Oxford University Press.
    • Brock, J.P. and K. Kaufman. 2003. Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies of North America. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, NY 284 pp.
    • Caruthers, J.C., and D. Debinski. 2006. Montane meadow butterfly species distributions in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. University of Wyoming National Park Service Research Center Annual Report, 2006. Vol. 30, Art. 14. 85-96.
    • Forister, M.L., C.A. Halsch, C.C. Nice, J.A. Fordyce, T.E. Dilts, J.C. Oliver, K.L. Prudic, A.M. Shapiro, J.K. Wilson, J. Glassberg. 2021. Fewer butterflies seen by community scientists across the warming and drying landscapes of the American West. Science 371:1042-1045.
    • Forister, M.L., E.M. Grames, C.A. Halsch, K.J. Burls, C.F. Carroll, K.L. Bell, J.P. Jahner, et al. 2023. Assessing risk for butterflies in the context of climate change, demographic uncertainty, and heterogeneous data sources. Ecological Monographs 93(3):e1584.
    • Fultz, J.E. 2005. Effects of shelterwood management on flower-visiting insects and their floral resources. M.Sc. Thesis. Bozeman, MT: Montana State University. 163 p.
    • Layberry, R.A., P.W. Hall, and J.D. LaFontaine. 1998. The Butterflies of Canada. University of Toronto Press. 280 pp. + color plates.
    • Opler, P.A., K. Lotts, and T. Naberhaus, coordinators. 2010. Butterflies and moths of North America. Big Sky Institute, Bozeman, MT. Available at: (Accessed 15 June 2015).
    • Sater, S. 2022. The insects of Sevenmile Creek, a pictorial guide to their diversity and ecology. Undergraduate Thesis. Helena, MT: Carroll College. 242 p.
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Checkered White — Pontia protodice.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from