Search Field Guide
Advanced Search
MT Gov Logo
Montana Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Clouded Sulphur - Colias philodice

Native Species

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S5

Agency Status


External Links

General Description
[From Ferris and Brown 1981; Scott 1986; Opler and Wright 1999; Glassberg 2001; Pyle 2002] Forewing 2.0-2.8 cm. Fringes narrowly pink, mixed with pale scales. Uppersurface of males clear yellow with solid black outer margins and an oval black cell spot; undersurface of male forewing with a few small dark postmedian spots, hindwing with double pink-rimmed silver cell spot and small satellite spot, up to 6 dark postmedian spots, a dark smudge near the leading margin. Female dimorphic, somewhat similar to males: yellow form with black outer margins uneven with enclosed yellow patches; white form identical but green-white instead of yellow.

Several flights in most regions, spring to fall; one flight June to July in northern British Columbia, Alaska, Newfoundland (Scott 1986). Spring to fall (Glassberg 2001). April to October in Colorado (Scott and Scott 1978), early April to mid-October in Oregon and Washington (Pyle 2002), early April to early October in Oregon (Warren 2005), late April to October in British Columbia (Threatful 1988; Guppy and Shepard 2001).

Diagnostic Characteristics
Best determined by combination of a lemon-yellow uppersurface lacking orange; female uppersurface with pale patches contained only within dark forewing border (absent from dark hindwing border); undersurface with some postmedian spots on forewings and hindwings; hindwing with double pink-rimmed silver cell spot and small satellite spot.

Species Range
Montana Range Range Descriptions


Range Comments
Alaska east across subarctic Canada to Maritime Provinces on Atlantic Coast, south through most of US except western California, southwestern Arizona, southern Texas, southern Florida; also to north central Mexico (Scott 1986; Opler and Wright 1999; Glassberg 2001); 1311 m to 3810 m elevation but more often below 2743 m in Colorado (Brown 1957; Scott and Scott 1978), resident to 1219 m elevation in Oregon and Washington, expanding farther upslope during summer (Pyle 2002), near sea level to at least 2438 m elevation in Oregon (Warren 2005), 456 m to 1829 m elevation in southeastern British Columbia (Threatful 1988). In Montana, reported from all counties (Kohler 1980; Stanford and Opler 1993). Mainly common, but uncommon in southern lowlands (Glassberg 2001).

Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 83

(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)

Non-migratory; may move more than 1 km but average < 300 m for most of a population dispersing (Watt et al. 1979; Scott 1986).

Open areas, montane meadows, fields, prairie, roadsides, croplands (especially alfalfa), alpine terrain and tundra (Scott 1986; Threatful 1988; Opler and Wright 1999; Glassberg 2001; Guppy and Shepard 2001; Pyle 2002). In Glacier National Park, Montana reported from montane mesic meadows (Debinski 1993); in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem reported from meadows, fields, roadsides, cultivated fields, brush land (Debinski and Pritchard 2002).

Food Habits
Larval food plants include native and introduced species such as Astragalus (multiple species), Baptisia, Caragana, Cytisus, Hedysarum, Lathyrus, Lotus, Lupinus, Medicago, Melilotus, Pisum, Robinia, Sphaerophysa, Thermopsis, Trifolium (multiple species), and Vicea (Emmel et al. 1970; Ferris and Brown 1981; Scott 1986, 1992, 2006; Graves and Shapiro 2003; Warren 2005). Adults feed on flower nectar (including Amelanchier, Arctium, Asclepias, Astragalus, Berteroa, Carduus, Centaurea, Chrysothamnus, Cichorium, Cicuta, Cirsium, Claytonia, Convolvulus, Cosmos, Delphinium, Dimorphotheca, Draba, Erigeron, Eriogonum, Eryngium, Erysimum, Fragaria, Gaillardia, Grindelia, Gutierrezia, Helianthus, Heterotheca, Lesquerella, Liatris, Linaria, Lithospermum, Machaeranthera, Malva, Medicago, Melilotus, Oenothera, Osmorhiza, Oxytropis, Phlox, Polygonum, Ranunculus, Ratibida, Rorippa, Rubus, Rudbeckia, Sagittaria, Salix, Sedum, Senecio, Silphium, Sisyrinchium, Solidago, Symphyotrichum, Tagetes, Taraxacum, Townsendia, Trifolium, Verbena, Verbesina, Vicea, Viguiera, Viola, Zizia) and mud (Pyle 2002; Tooker et al. 2002; Scott 2014).

Reproductive Characteristics
Females lay eggs singly on leaves of young host plants, most often upper leaf surface but also sides and undersurface (Scott 1986, 1992, 2006). Number of eggs per ovariole (1/8 total supply) about 110 (Ehrlich and Ehrlich 1978). Eggs hatch in 3-7 days, develop from fresh egg to pupae in about 19-30 days (depending on temperature). Some larvae suspend development at L3 or L4 instar to overwinter, also reported to overwinter as pupae (Scott 1979; James and Nunnallee 2011). Larvae feed on host plant leaves, build no nests (Scott 1986; James and Nunnallee 2011). Males patrol throughout the day in low, erratic and rapid flights in open areas regardless of topography while searching for females (Scott 1975b, 1986; James and Nunnallee 2011). Maximum longevity of adult males about 10-24 days, females 3-17 days (Watt et al. 1979; Scott 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.
    • Threatful, D.L. 1988. A list of the butterflies and skippers of Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks, British Columbia, Canada (Lepidoptera). Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera 27(3-4): 213-221.
    • 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.
    • Watt, W.B., D. Han, and B.E. Tabashnik. 1979. Population structure of pierid butterflies II. A 'native' population of Coloias philodice eriphyle in Colorado. Oecologia 44(1): 44-52.
  • Additional ReferencesLegend:   View Online Publication
    Do you know of a citation we're missing?
    • 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.
    • Layberry, R.A., P.W. Hall, and J.D. LaFontaine. 1998. The Butterflies of Canada. University of Toronto Press. 280 pp. + color plates.
    • Maxell, B.A. 2016. Northern Goshawk surveys on the Beartooth, Ashland, and Sioux Districts of the Custer-Gallatin National Forest: 2012-2014. Montana Natural Heritage Program. Helena, MT. 114pp.
    • Sater, S. 2022. The insects of Sevenmile Creek, a pictorial guide to their diversity and ecology. Undergraduate Thesis. Helena, MT: Carroll College. 242 p.
  • Web Search Engines for Articles on "Clouded Sulphur"
  • Additional Sources of Information Related to "Insects"
Login Logout
Citation for data on this website:
Clouded Sulphur — Colias philodice.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from