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Montana Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Orange Sulphur - Colias eurytheme

Native Species

Global Rank: G4G5
State Rank: S5

Agency Status


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General Description
[From Ferris and Brown 1981; Scott 1986; Opler and Wright 1999; Glassberg 2001; Pyle 2002] Forewing 2.2-3.1 cm. Highly variable, wing fringes narrowly pink. Uppersurface of male and normal female with at least orange patch in central portion of each wing with clear yellow to extensive golden-orange, borders broadly black; female with pale spots in dark forewing border, also sometimes off-white instead of yellow. Undersurface of forewing with orange flush, often a few dark post-median spots; hindwing with double cell spot (upper spot tiny) and with double pink ring, a dark smudge near center of leading wing margin, a few dark post-median spots.

Many flights, spring to fall (Scott 1986). Mainly early spring to fall, June to September in northern part of range (Glassberg 2001). April to October in Rocky Mountain states (Ferris and Brown 1981), mid-April through October in Colorado (Scott and Scott 1978), late March to early November in Oregon and Washington (Pyle 2002), late February to mid-December in Oregon (Warren 2005), April to October in British Columbia (Threatful 1988; Guppy and Shepard 2001).

Diagnostic Characteristics
Best determined by combination of uppersurface with at least orange patch in central portion of each wing with clear yellow to extensive golden-orange, borders broadly black; female with pale spots in dark forewing border, also sometimes off-white instead of yellow. Undersurface of hindwing with double cell spot (upper spot tiny) and with double pink ring, a dark smudge near center of leading wing margin, a few dark post-median spots.

Species Range
Montana Range Range Descriptions


Range Comments
Across central Canada south through the US to central Mexico (Scott 1986; Opler and Wright 1999; Glassberg 2001); above 1219 m to at least 3810 m elevation in Colorado (Brown 1957; Scott and Scott 1978), sea level to at least 2743 m elevation in Oregon (Warren 2005), 456 m to 762 m elevation in southeastern British Columbia (Threatful 1988). In Montana, reported from all counties (Kohler 1980, Stanford and Opler 1993). Common to abundant (Glassberg 2001).

Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 40

(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)

Seasonal immigrant in north, resident over much of North American range. Generally, no resident populations in north because unable to survive northern winters (Scott 1986; Glassberg 2001; Guppy and Shepard 2001; Pyle 2002; Warren 2005; James and Nunnallee 2011).

A wide variety of open habitats, alfalfa fields and other agricultural lands, urban lawns and gardens, fields, deserts, prairie, foothills, roadsides, forest edges, montane meadows, above treeline in alpine terrain (Emmel 1964; Ferris and Brown 1981; Scott 1986; Threatful 1988; Opler and Wright 1999; Glassberg 2001; Pyle 2002). In Glacier National Park, Montana reported from mesic montane meadows and above treeline in alpine terrain (Debinski 1993); in Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, reported from fields, meadows, cultivated lands, roadsides (Debinski and Pritchard 2002).

Food Habits
Larval food plants are members of the pea family, and include exotic and native Astragalus (several species), Baptista, Cassia, Coronilla, Glycine, Glycyrrhiza, Lathyrus, Lespedeza, Lotus (several species), Lupinus (several species), Medicago (multiple species), Melilotus, Phaseolus, Pisum, Psoralea, Sebania, Sphaerophysa, Swainsona, Thermopsis, Trifolium (several species), and Vicea (several species) (Emmel et al. 1970; Scott 1986, 1992, 2006; Guppy and Shepard 2001; Pyle 2002; Graves and Shapiro 2003; Warren 2005). Adults feed on flower nectar (including Apocynum, Aquilegia, Arnica, Asclepias, Astragalus, Berteroa, Bidens, Buddleja, Carduus, Centaurea, Chrysanthemum, Chrysothamnus, Cirsium, Cleome, Convolvulus, Coronilla, Coreopsis, Echinacea, Erigeron, Eriogonum, Erysimum, Gaillardia, Geranium, Grindelia, Gutierrezia, Helianthus, Heliopsis, Heterotheca, Lathyrus, Liatris, Linaria, Lobelia, Lotus, Machaeranthera, Medicago, Melilotus, Mentha, Musineon, Oxytropis, Penstemon, Phlox, Ratibida, Rubus, Rudbeckia, Salvia, Scabiosa, Sedum, Senecio, Solidago, Symphyotrichum, Syringa, Tagetes, Taraxacum, Trifolium, Verbena, Verbesina, Viola, Zinnia) and mud (Pyle 2002; James and Nunnallee 2011; Scott 2014).

Reproductive Characteristics
Females lay eggs singly on host plant leaves (usually uppersurface), may lay 700 or more eggs during lifetime, adult lifespan up to 39 days (Scott 1986, 1992, 2006). Eggs hatch in 4-5 days (depending on temperature), reach L5 instar and pupate in about 15-27 days after egg-hatch (James and Nunnallee 2011). Larvae feed on host plant leaves, build no nest, overwinter as L3-L4 instars and pupae (Scott 1979, 1986; James and Nunnallee 2011). Males patrol throughout the day in open areas, regardless of topography, in search of females (Scott 1975; James and Nunnallee 2011).

  • 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.
    • 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.
    • Emmel, T.C. 1964. The ecology and distribution of butterflies in a montane community near Florissant, Colorado. American Midland Naturalist 72(2): 358-373.
    • 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.
    • 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
    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.
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Orange Sulphur — Colias eurytheme.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from