Yellow Butterflies: Pictures and Butterfly ID Help

Identifying the yellow butterflies seen in fields, forests and backyards around the United States starts by recognizing that apart from some swallowtail species and an occasional brush foot butterfly, all the yellow butterflies belong to the subfamily Coliadinae.

The approximately two dozen native species, divided into ten separate genera, suggests yellow butterfly diversity. Wile that’s true, 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.

Individuals interested in butterfly gardens can use a vertical geography rule of thumb when considering yellow butterfly species in the garden. Diversity increases from north to south. Northern gardens might get one or two Colias species on a regular basis. Southern gardens might get species from all ten genera at different times during the year.

This pocket guide to yellow butterfly identification begins with the video at the top of the page, the Southern Dogface. It’s one of two native Zerene species. Found from coast to coast in the south, they fly year round in some areas and spring through fall in others.

Please press the green Butterflies button for additional pictures, videos and information covering species in all the butterfly families.

Yellow Butterflies: Eurema

picture of a Barred yellow Butterfly
Starting with the Barred-yellow, the people of the south might see the occasional Eurema in the garden. The picture shows a species with a rather drab looking wing. Darker bars form on the wing during the wet season.

picture of a Boisduval's Yellow Butterfly
A few fortunate gardeners in the southern areas of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas might be able to draw the Boisduval’s Yellow to the garden. They are medium sized subtropical butterflies and their larvae feed on Cassias, a common native plant in the pea family.

Angled-Sulphur Butterflies

picture of an angled-sulphur butterfly
Primarily tropical species, two Angled-sulphur butterfly species (Atneos) occasionally make their way to the United States.

Dainty Sulphur

picture of a danty sulphur butterfly, winter form
With a one inch wing span, the Dainty Sulfur (Nathalis iole), 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 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), 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, part of the yellow butterflies series
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. The picture presents a side view of the wings, devoid of a pattern, with a hint of green shading on the underside of the wing.

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 top 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.

Yellow Butterflies: Colias

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.

picture of an orange sulphur butterfly
Despite the name, nothing says yellow butterflies quite like the Orange Sulphur. Its range extends across most of the United States. 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.

Yellow Butterflies: Pryisitia

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.

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.

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.