Yellow butterfly with some black marks and one white spot; the black on the top of the upperside is visible through the wing. Active

Clouded Yellow, 2018. Photo: Mike Skelton

A migrant butterfly seen in varying numbers each year, with occasional ‘bumper’ years, such as 1996, 2000 and 2006. It will breed during the summer months in the UK, but does not generally survive the winter. However this butterfly has been known to survive year-round on the Bournemouth Undercliff. This was first noted in 1999 by Mike Skelton. Dorset and Devon are the best counties for this butterfly.

Where to see

Habitat: This butterfly's native breeding habitat is round the Mediterranean, from which it migrates northward and reaches our shores. Summer breeding takes place where there is a good supply of its foodplants.

Caterpillar foodplants: Clovers, lucerne (alfalfa) and sometimes Bird's-foot Trefoil and other legumes.

Best places: May be sighted almost anywhere, but as they come in from the English Channel, there may be a better chance of seeing them near the coast. The butterfly walk along the side of the Weymouth Relief road often records them.

Also try places with flowers on which the adults like to nectar: Vetches, Thistles, Marjoram, Knapweeds, Fleabane and Dandelion may attract them. They do visit gardens.

Distribution map

Explore the Atlas to see historical distribution trends for this species.

When to see

Mainly turns up in late summer and autumn, though odd specimens turn up at surprising times.

Sightings by month (last 5 years)*:

Sightings this year*:

Browse the sightings archive.


Size: Large

Although this is called the Clouded Yellow, if you see a butterfly which is bright yellow in flight, it is more likely to be a male Brimstone. Clouded Yellows look more golden yellow or even orange in flight.

Close up, the Clouded Yellow has green eyes, while the Brimstone has dark eyes. The shape of the wings is also very different: the Clouded Yellow has rounded wings, while the Brimstone has points to its wings.

Around ten percent of females each year are of a form known as ‘helice’ which is paler than the norm and ranges from white to grey. Some examples of the Helice form are seen most years. There are much more rare forms, known as the Pale Clouded Yellow and Berger’s Clouded Yellow, but it is unlikely you will see one of these.

The Clouded Yellow always lands with its wings closed, so seeing the upper wings is rare, but necessary if you are to distinguish the two other forms of this butterfly which only show up in very small numbers: the Pale Clouded Yellow and Berger’s Clouded Yellow.

Photo gallery

Tip: Click thumbnails to view full-size images.

*Note: The charts shown on this page are drawn only from casual sightings submitted to this website. Records from this website will be added to a lot more data collected throughout the year and used to compile the five-yearly Butterfly Atlases for Dorset and the UK.

Find more Clouded Yellow related content, including news and photos.