Laguna Beach, Orange County, CA. © Allan Schoenherr

Cloudless Sulphur

Phoebis sennae marcellina (Cramer)

Lepidoptera: Pieridae

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UCI Arboretum, Irvine, Orange County, CA. 10-06-08. © Ron Hemberger

Fullerton Arboretum, Fullerton, Orange County, CA. 6-16-09. © Ron Hemberger

Mating pair (Female on left, male on right). San Clemente, Orange County, CA. 01/16/15. © Robert Gorman

Bluebird Park, Laguna Beach, Orange County, CA. 8-15-13. © Ron Hemberger

Fullerton Arboretum, Fullerton, Orange County, CA. © Ron Hemberger

Fullerton Arboretum, Fullerton, Orange County, CA. © Ron Hemberger

Laguna Beach, Orange County, CA. © Allan Schoenherr

San Clemente State Park, 3-5-16. © Ron Vanderhoff

Larva. © Peter J. Bryant. .


Prepupa. © Peter J. Bryant.

Time-lapse video of metamorphosis


Newly hatched adult. © Peter J. Bryant. .

Characteristics: Larger than our other sulfur butterflies. Male--yellow, and devoid of other markings on the DW. Female--yellow-white (albinos occasionally occur), with brown margins and other dark markings on the DW. Forewing length: 29-36 mm.

Similar Species: None. Larger and quite distinct from other locally-occurring yellow butterflies.

Habitats, Behavior: This butterfly was once common in the "gardens and parks of southern California, in search of the yellow Cassia blossoms" (Comstock, 1927). Adults are often fast flying and difficult to capture. The species is said to occasionally migrate in large swarms in the southern states (Ehrlich and Ehrlich, 1961). Locally, Bruce Griffin notes that adults seemed to be particularly fond of red-flowering geraniums as a nectar source (Bruce Griffin, in litt. ).

Distribution: Spotty records, principally from the lower elevations of Orange County.

Flight Period: The Cloudless Sulfur is multiple brooded, adults flying from February to December.

Larval Foodplant: Ornamental Cassia species are utilized in coastal southern California.

Other Remarks: This sulfur butterfly apparently was once a common sight in the Los Angeles area, until 20 or 30 years ago. It was, until 1976, a very choice capture and very scarce in Orange County. Perhaps cold winters, in part, killed off overwintering pupae over a period of several years and prevented the permanent re-establishment of the species over subsequent years. Another logical hypothesis proposed by Gordon Marsh, concerns the less frequent planting of a larval foodplant, Canary Bird Bush (Crotalaria agatiflora) in southern California. Extensively planted as an ornamental in earlier years, its invasive characteristics eventually made it unpopular with local homeowners. The Cloudless Sulfur today seems to be seen most frequently along the coastal areas (judging from the capture locations of specimens seen in student collections at Newport Harbor High School). These specimens may represent strays from Arizona and Mexico which flew north after reaching the coast. Kerry records (1918) indicate that sennae marcellina was a scarce item in the county early in this century.

From Orsak, L. J. (1977). The Butterflies of Orange County, California. Center for Pathobiology Miscellaneous Publication #3. University of California Press, New York. 349pp.

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