Yellow Butterflies for Butterfly Identification

picture of a danty sulphur butterfly, winter form

The yellow butterflies seen in fields, forests and backyards around North America also go by the name sulphur butterflies (Coliadinae). With approximately two dozen native species, divided into ten separate genera, sulphurs show some diversity within the larger butterfly family, Pieridae.

Related Information
branding holder
Almost half of the Coliadinae species, approximately one dozen, belong to one genus, Colias. Most species grow to an above average size, having a two to three inch average wing span. The presentation provides a represenatative sample of ten species from seven genera to help with basic butterfly identification questions.

Dainty Sulphur

With a one inch wing span, the Dainty Sulfur (Nathalis iole), pictured above, measures in as the smallest sulfur butterfly.

The caterpillars feed on plants in the aster family, the largest plant genus in the world. The wide availability of plants provides the Dainty Sulfur with an extended range from Central American, north through the Midwestern United States.

It's also North America's sole Nathalis representative. The top picture highlights its winter form. During the summer, the top and bottom wings show more yellow.

Sleepy Orange

picture of a sleepy orange butterfly

Another one of a kind, the Sleepy Orange butterfly (Abaeis nicippe), picture two, represents the Abaeis genus for North America.

Common across much of the south, picture two highlights some dark wing patterns on the underwing, a good field identification clue.

Females display more marks than males. Winter colors on both genders appear brighter yellow.

Lyside Sulphur

picture of a Lyside Sulphur butterfly

The Lyside Sulphur (Kricogonia lyside), North America's sole representative of the Kricogonia genus, extends its range to the Southwest, Texas, and occasionally the lower Midwest.

Picture three presents a side view of the wings, devoid of a pattern, with a hint of green shading on the underside of the wing.

Southern Dogface

southern dogface butterfly

The Southern Dogface (Zerene cesonia), picture four, one of two native Zerene species, might also be one of the most common North American Sulfur species.

Found from coast to coast, in the south, they fly year round in some areas and spring through fall in others.

The final picture presents a side view. The pointed tip at the top of the wing, along with the white spots in the middle of both the top and bottom wings, serve as the basic field identification marks.

Cloudless Sulphur

picture of a female cloudless sulphur butterfly

The Cloudless Sulphur (Phoebis sennae), the most widespread of the four native Phoebis species, spreads its wings from coast to coast. While male wing color remains yellow throughout its range, female wing color varies from yellow to white.

The picture shows a female with a wide band of pink around the wing edges. The crooked line of spots on the top wing differentiates it from the Large Orange Sulphur.

The prominence of the pink band along the wing edges varies from specimen to specimen.

Orange Sulphur

picture of an orange sulphur butterfly

Wing tops are yellow with black stripes that are visible as dark borders from underside of the wings. Additionally, a distinct white spot, located in the middle of the bottom wing, is visible during an examination of the underside of the wings.

Usually the Orange Sulphur wings display shades of orange. Females in both species also have a white wing form.

Western Sulphur

picture of a Western sulphur butterfly

Plants in the pea family (Fabaceae), the larval food of the Western Sulphur (Colias occidentalis) anchor their populations across western North America.

Little Yellow

picture of a Little Yellow butterfly

The Little Yellow butterfly (Pyrisitia lisa), is indeed a little yellow butterfly, along with being the most widespread of the five native North American Pyrisitia species. The two small black spots on the bottom of the hindwing, near the legs, are the key field identification clues for differentiating it from the Mimosa Yellow.

Mimosa Yellow

picture of a Mimosa Yellow butterfly

The Mimosa Yellow (Pyrisitia nise) prefer forest habitats. The look of the hindwing changes from season to season, taking on a variety of yellow shades and patterns. The lack of the two dark spots on the bottom of the hindwing (next to the feet) is the main field identification clue.

The caterpillars feed on plants in the mimosa genus of the pea family, explaining the name.

Tailed Orange

picture of a tailed orange butterfly

The Tailed Orange (Pyrisitia proterpia) butterfly gets its name from the very small tail-like projection at the bottom of its wings.

Unlike many butterflies, with open wings, the Tailed Orange presents itself in a square rather than circular form.

Researchers are debating the status of the Pyrisitia genus, wondering if it should be combined with another Coliadinae genus.

© 2006-2016 Patricia A. Michaels.