Yellow Sulphur Butterflies

19 Dec

A Life to Live

Melody Hendrix


The yellow butterflies you see around fall are the Sulphur butterflies. There are many variations, but all look similar.


Cloudless sulphur, a common year-round resident in much of peninsular Florida, the cloudless sulphur rapidly extends it range northward each spring and eventually establishes breeding colonies as far north as Canada and the Midwest by the end of summer. As cool autumn weather approaches, adults from the final generation begin a return migration, coming back to the Deep South to overwinter.


You may see them in most open, sunny areas such as roadsides, old fields, gardens, pastures, and fallow agricultural fields.

Larval Host Plants: Cloudless sulphur caterpillars use a various plants in the pea family including, Cassia tree, Partridge pea, sickle-pod senna, sensitive pea, wild senna, coffee senna  and Christmas senna or golden shower. Cloudless sulphurs may be found in all habitats when migrating, but breed in disturbed open areas where their caterpillar host plants and nectar plants are found. They have relatively long tongues and can reach the nectar of some tubular flowers that some other butterflies cannot. They have such a sweet fuzzy face and big eyes.


Males patrol for females throughout the day and especially around nectar. The male initiate courtship by making contact with the female’s wings either with his wings or legs. A receptive female usually flicks her wings and then closes them. Unless the female assumed a “mate refusal” posture (open wings and raised abdomen)


Eggs are laid singly on the host plant. Larvae live exposed (no shelter) and feed on foliage, buds and flowers.


At night, on dark, cloudy days, and during storms, adult cloudless sulphurs roost singly on leaves. Although the adults are brightly colored when flying, they seem to disappear against similarly colored leaves in the shade. The roost site may be low to the ground in shrubs with lots of foliage or high up in the leaves of trees.

The fall migration of cloudless sulphurs is the easiest to observe butterfly migration in the southeastern United States. (Monarchs are migrating at the same time, but they generally fly too high to see and are heading for Mexico. During fall, the numbers of cloudless sulphurs crossing an east-west line bisecting the Florida peninsula at the latitude of Gainesville may approach the numbers of monarchs overwintering in clusters at highly localized sites in Mexico.

 The seasonal migrations of cloudless sulphurs and monarchs are similar in that each species is abandoning large and favorable summer breeding areas that have lethally low winter temperatures for more favorable climates to the south. In the spring, surviving adults head northward and soon repopulate the summer breeding areas. In both species, the northward migration is evidenced by the reappearance each summer in the breeding areas they abandoned the previous fall.

It’s always so interesting to me how plants defend themselves against herbivores. Caterpillars can be quite destructive to it’s host plants. So many host plants grow extrafloral nectaries on the leaf petioles to attract predacious ants for protection.


Different plants grow different shaped cups, but they are all filled with nectar for the ants. The ants in return protect the plants from the herbivores. I find this fascinating how nature works.

Raising these yellow beauties is easy if you have the host plants, which for me is the Cassia tree. A beautiful tree that blooms in the fall in a fantastic display of yellow unusual looking blooms.


It’s chrysalis is much different than the monarch. You can see the butterfly colors through it the day before it emerges.


Next week we will explore our own Florida state butterfly, the Zebra Longwing.

2 Responses to “Yellow Sulphur Butterflies”

  1. Louise GibsonDDING December 19, 2017 at 8:58 am #

    Thank you. MELODY So interesting, I have always enjoyed watching butterflies. but knew so little about them


  2. divoran09 December 19, 2017 at 8:31 am #

    Absolutely breathtaking text and pictures. Amazing and wonderful.


Thank you for stopping by and reading our posts. Your comments are welcomed.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: