The little yellow is just what the name says it is. The upper side is yellow with a black border and forewing tip. The lower side is yellow with a few spots, including two tiny black spots on the basal hindwing. Most individuals have a large round rusty spot on the lower-side hindwing margin, although the spot may be faint or missing in males. Pale yellow females are common, but white, truly albino females are rare. Because they perch with their wings closed, you will only see the black borders on the upper side of the wings when they are flying.
Larvae are green with a white stripe along each side; the bodies are downy.
Wingspan: 1–1¾ inches. Females are slightly larger.
Habitat and Conservation
The little yellow is a southern species that recolonizes the state each summer and fall. The numbers vary from year to year, but the species is usually common by late summer. They die with the arrival of freezing weather. Found statewide in open, weedy habitats including fields, prairies, waste ground, and roadsides. Look for them visiting flowers and gathering at mud puddles.
The caterpillars eat the leaves of legumes, particularly partridge pea and wild senna. Adults take nectar from flowers, especially goldenrods, asters, and other members of the sunflower family. They take moisture and minerals from mud puddles and other damp ground.
This species has multiple broods. Little yellows recolonize the northern part of their range as the warm season progresses, arriving in our state in May. Males patrol for females; during courtship, the male touches the female with wings and legs while the female spreads her antennae to detect pheromones. If she is not interested, she will either flutter her wings or fly straight up. Unlike most other whites and sulphurs, little yellow females generally do not raise the abdomen as a sign of rejection. Females lay eggs singly on suitable host plants.
Butterfly photography is a “thing,” and so is “butterfly watching.” These are activities that get you outside in the fresh air, provide exercise and relaxation, keep your brain amused with unlimited learning opportunities, and give you a creative outlet. Not everyone is cut out for TV watching!
In late summer, goldenrods and asters are busy places. They are an important nectar source for a wide variety of insects that visit them, including this butterfly. At the same time, many types of spiders and predatory insects wait on the plants to feast on the insects visiting the flowers for nectar. A little yellow that takes nectar from a goldenrod in late September may not have much of a future here, and no offspring this far north, but it can certainly play a role in sustaining our state’s crab spiders, ambush bugs, and praying mantids.