White and Yellow Butterflies

Whether in butterfly gardens or appreciated in nature, butterflies are arguably the gardener’s favorite insect. Florida is home to many butterflies, including several yellow and white butterflies that can be seen at various times of year; some are even viewable year-round. Here is a sampling of white and yellow butterflies found in our state.


A mainly white butterfly with dusty black markings
Adult female checkered white butterfly. Photograph by Donald W. Hall, University of Florida.

The larva of the checkered white (Pontia protodice) butterfly is called the southern cabbageworm and is a pest of plants in the Brassicaceae (cabbage) family. This butterfly is found throughout Florida from March to October. Adults have a wing-span of 1.25 to 2 inches. Male butterflies are white with dark gray markings on the front wings. Female butterflies are grayish-white with dark gray checkered markings on both the front and hind wings. It is most commonly found in disturbed areas where its host plants most often occur. Host plants include herbs in the Brassicaeae family and Virginia pepperweed.

A black and white butterfly with tail like appendages at the bottom of each wing
Female zebra swallowtail. Charles T. and John R. Bryson, Bugwood.org

Zebra swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus) is the only native kite swallowtail in Florida; it is also called the pawpaw butterfly, kite swallowtail, and ajax. The upper surface of the wings is white with black stripes and the hindwings have very long tails. Adult zebra swallowtails have a wingspread of 2.5 to 4 inches. These butterflies are found in Florida from February to December. Their preferred habitat is open woodland, pinelands, forest edges, meadows, roadsides, and pastures. Females need young leaves to lay their eggs on; host plants are members of the Asimina species (pawpaws).

Creamy white butterfly
Adult cabbage white butterfly. Photo by James Castner, University of Florida.

Cabbage white (Pieris rapae) butterflies are found in the northern half of Florida year-round. Adults have a wingspread of 1.5 to 2 inches. Butterflies are white with black tipped forewings; females have two black spots while males have one. Cabbage white butterflies are found in most open, sunny locations including disturbed sites, fields, roadsides, and agricultural land. Larval host plants include most wild and cultivated crucifers including peppergrass, mustard, cabbage, and broccoli.

Another cream-white butterfly
Male great southern white butterfly. Photo by Jaret Daniels, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

The great southern white (Ascia monuste) is found in the southern half of Florida year-round. This butterfly frequents open, sunny areas such as disturbed sites, old fields, and roadsides. Larval host plants are Virginia peppergrass, saltwort, and limber caper. These butterflies are 1.75 to 2.5 inches across and all white with a black zig zag pattern on the outer margin.


A black and yellow butterfly
Yellow form of an adult tiger swallowtail, Papilio glaucus Linnaeus. Photo by Jerry F. Butler, University of Florida.

Male tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) butterflies live up to their name; they are yellow with dark stripes in a pattern resembling that of a tiger. Females come in two forms; one looks like the males while the other is black with shadows of darker stripes. Both female forms have a row of blue chevrons on their hindwings. Adults are large, with a wing spread of 3.5 to 5.5 inches. Tiger swallowtail butterflies are found in the entirety of the state except the Keys. These butterflies are seen from February to November in areas including open woodlands, forest edges, roadsides, meadows, and pastures. Larval host plants are black cherry, ash, and sweetbay magnolia.

A yellow butterfly with a light dusting of black on its wing tips
Dainty sulphur butterfly. Photo by Dr. Jaret Daniels, all rights reserved.

As their name would suggest, dainty sulfur (Nathalis iole) butterflies are smaller, with a wing span of .75 to 1.25 inches. Dainty sulfur butterflies are yellow to yellow-orange in color and have black to olive markings near the margins of their wings. They can be found year-round in Florida, particularly in southern parts of the state. These butterflies can be found in open, sunny, and dry locations including fields, agricultural land, roadsides, and disturbed sites. Spanish needles and carpetweed are the larval host plants of the dainty sulfur.

bright yellow butterfly with dark brown markings that do not look like a dog's face
Southern dogface butterfly. Charles T. and John R. Bryson, Bugwood.org

Southern dogface (Zerene cesonia) butterflies get their name by the patterning that is visible when the wings are open. This butterfly is mostly yellow with black markings that make up the shading of the “dog face.” Mature butterflies have a wing spread that is 2 to 2.75 inches. They can be observed in the southern half of Florida year-round. Their habitat is open, sunny, and dry locations like oak scrub, pinelands, open woodland, old fields, meadows, pastures, and roadsides. Larval host plants for dogface butterflies are false indigo, summer farewell, and alfalfa.

Adult male cloudless sulphur
Adult male cloudless sulphur. Photo by Marc C. Minno, University of Florida.

Cloudless sulfurs (Phoebis sennae) are one of the most common butterflies, and can be found year-round in Florida. Adults are usually bright yellow with wingspreads that range from 2 to 3 inches. Sometimes summer females are pale yellow or even white. They prefer open, sunny areas like disturbed site, old fields, meadows, pastures, roadsides, and agricultural fields. Larval host plants are various wild and ornamental cassias. In Florida they frequently go for nectar at red morning-glories, scarlet creeper, cypressvine, and scarlet sage.

A yellow butterfly
Female orange-barred sulphur. Photo by Dr. Jaret Daniels, all rights reserved.

Male orange-barred sulphur (Phoebis philea) butterflies are bright yellow-orange for the most part, while females can be an off-white color or a yellow-orange color. Females are larger than the males, but on average these butterflies have a wing spread of 2.75 to 3.25 inches. Orange-barred sulphur butterflies are found in the southern portion of Florida but are known to stray northward year-round. Their habitat ranges from open woodlands to urban gardens. Native and ornamental cassias are the larval host plants for these butterflies.

Attracting Butterflies

For gardeners thinking of adding butterfly plants to their landscapes, it’s important to note that both caterpillar host plants and nectar plants for adults should be planted to maximize butterfly populations. Learn more about planning your own butterfly garden here on Gardening Solutions. And you can always contact your county Extension office for help from agents familiar with your community.

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