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Orange sulphur facts for kids

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Orange sulphur
McGeorge Colias eurytheme.JPG
Dorsal view
Ventral view
Conservation status

Secure (NatureServe)
Scientific classification

Colias eurytheme, the orange sulphur, also known as the alfalfa butterfly and in its larval stage as the alfalfa caterpillar, is a butterfly of the family Pieridae, where it belongs to the lowland group of "clouded yellows and sulphurs" subfamily Coliadinae. It is found throughout North America from southern Canada to Mexico.

Other members of this lineage including the common or clouded sulphur (C. philodice) and C. eriphyle and C. vitabunda, which are often included in C. philodice as subspecies. Hybridization runs rampant between these, making phylogenetic analyses exclusively utilizing one type of data (especially mtDNA sequences) unreliable. Therefore, little more can be said about its relationships, except that it is perhaps closer to C. (p.) eriphyle than generally assumed, strengthening the view that the latter should be considered a valid species.

The orange sulphur's caterpillars feed off various species in the pea family (Fabaceae) and are usually only found feeding at night. Occasionally this species multiplies to high numbers, and can become a serious pest to alfalfa (Medicago sativa) crops. The parasitoid wasp, Cotesia medicaginis can be used as a biocontrol agent against the caterpillars.


C. eurytheme butterflies can be found from southern Mexico to almost all throughout North America. Historically, they were distributed primarily in the western Nearctic, but were displaced to the east by logging and alfalfa field planting.


Wing pattern

Male C. eurytheme hindwings demonstrate an ultraviolet reflectance pattern while female C. eurytheme hindwings demonstrate ultraviolet absorbing patterns. According to studies, these ultraviolet reflecting wing scales found in males also contain pterin pigments that absorb wavelengths below 550 nm. Although this may seem paradoxical, the pterin pigments have been found to decrease the amount of diffuse ultraviolet reflectance that comes from the wing scales. By suppressing the diffuse ultraviolet reflectance, the directionality and spectral purity of the iridescence is heightened. In addition, the presence of the pterin pigments increases the signal's chromaticity and potential signal content, suggesting that these pigments are responsible for amplifying the contrast between ultraviolet reflectance and background colors as a male's wings move during flight. Further studies have found that the ultraviolet reflectance signal is brightest within a wing beat cycle when viewed from directly above the male. This supports the idea that male wing color should be able to be readily distinguished from that of females and the visual background that consists mostly of UV-absorbing vegetation.

Genetic inheritance

Studies have suggested that most of the genes controlling male courtship signals are inherited as a co-adapted gene complex on the X-chromosome. The X-chromosome carries most of the genes controlling production of 13-methyl heptacosane, the main component of pheromones involved in sexual selection, and the ultraviolet wing reflectance pattern. Expression of the ultraviolet wing reflectance pattern found in male C. eurytheme is controlled by a recessive allele on the X-chromosome. This trait is sex limited and not expressed in females of the same species.


Reproductive behavior

Unlike that of many other butterfly species, the courtship of C. eurytheme is very brief and does not involve many elaborate displays. Mature female butterflies participate in mate selection by utilizing a specific refusal posture that prevents any undesired mating with both conspecific and non-conspecific males.

These butterflies exhibit a polyandrous mating system. Upon mating, male C. eurytheme donate a nutritious spermatophore to the female, which will erode over time as nutrients are extracted for egg production and somatic maintenance. Females have a refractory period during which time they do not mate, but after they have depleted their spermatophore, they will search for another one and thus look for a new mate. In this mating system, females re-mate once every 4 to 6 days in summer, and mate a lifetime total of up to four times.

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