A pretty yellow butterfly that flits around from flower to flower. It’s so delicate that it barely seems like it’s real.

Photo of a clouded sulphur butterfly

However, the clouded sulphur butterfly (Colias philodice) is one of the most common butterflies in the state of Iowa. Let’s take a look at some of the neat facts about it:

Clouded sulphurs get their name from the chemical compound.

Sulphur, or sulfur, is a yellow nonmetal. We typically notice sulfur by the smell — it smells like rotten eggs — but it is also a bright yellow color. Clouded sulphurs take after the color, not the smell of sulfur.

They like “weeds.” 

We often talk about the need to keep some “weeds” in your yard as habitat and food sources, and the clouded sulphur needs two of the most dreaded “weeds.” Adults love dandelions, and its caterpillar’s host plant is white clover. So helping the clouded sulphur is a great excuse to leave dandelions and clover in your yard.

Clouded sulphurs are quite small.

Clouded sulphurs are common, but they are quite small so they may be overlooked. These yellow butterflies range from 1.3 inches to 2 inches wide.

They hibernate in Iowa.

Clouded sulphurs are active in Iowa April-October, and the last generation of caterpillars will hatch at the end of the season and will hibernate in their larval state until spring.

They aren’t cloudless.

Clouded sulphurs often get confused for cloudless sulphurs, in both name and appearance. However, cloudless sulphurs are most common in the southern U.S. and Mexico.

Sometimes, sulphurs interbreed.

Female clouded sulphurs that are less than one hour old cannot differentiate between the pheromones of clouded and orange sulphurs. It is during this time that the most frequent hybridization occurs. Usually, only sterile females are produced. When there is a female clouded sulphur and a male orange sulphur, viable offspring are produced.

They have short lifespans.

In general, clouded sulphur adult butterflies only live two-three days, although some have been documented to live up to three weeks.

Wildlife of Iowa through the alphabet

American wigeon (Anas americana) This dabbling duck migrates through Iowa. It is known for its whistle-like call and its short, stumpy bill that allows it to pluck vegetation to eat with ease. Blue-winged teal (Anas discors) Blue-winged teal are the second most abundant duck in America, behind the mallard. Common mudpuppy (Necturus maculosus) This salamander…

Read More

10 monarch butterfly questions answered

We get a lot of questions at the Dickinson County Nature Center, and a lot of them have to do with butterflies and bees. Let’s take a look at some of our most commonly asked questions about monarch butterflies. How long do monarch butterflies live? A monarch is in the egg stage for three-five days,…

Read More

Native Iowa Butterflies and Moths: Sulphurs and blues

As our Pollinator Paradise addition to the Dickinson County Nature Center wraps up construction and we look forward to finishing fundraising for exhibits and adding some children’s museum-quality displays, we have butterflies and bees on the mind. That’s why we’re taking a look at some of the most common types of butterflies and moths in…

Read More

Moth or butterfly? Can you tell the difference?

Is it a moth or a butterfly? It sounds like a simple question, and there are a few simple ways to answer it: If it flies during the day, it’s a butterfly; if it flies at night, it’s a moth. However, there are diurnal moths — those that fly during the day, and there are…

Read More

Leave a Comment