Only male orange-tip butterflies actually have orange tips to their forewings; females have black or greyish wing tips (1). In both sexes, the undersides of the hindwings have a dappled pattern of yellowish-black scales, which provides good camouflage when the butterfly is at rest amongst vegetation (2). The caterpillar reaches 3 cm in length, and is pale bluish- or greyish-green with white sides. The whole body is peppered with fine black spots (3).
The main foodplants of the caterpillars are cuckooflower (Cardamine pratensis), and garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata); although a range of other members of the crucifer family are used (2). A single generation is produced each year (3); adults usually fly between mid-April and mid-June (2), and females lay eggs singly during May or June on the flower heads of the foodplants (3). The eggs, which are white at first, turn orange after 2-3 days, and are easy to spot (2). It is very rare to find more than one egg on a flower; studies have shown that females mark the flowers on which they have laid an egg with a pheromone, and other females are deterred from laying there as a result. This ensures that each larva has sufficient food in its early stages (2). During June and July (3) the caterpillars feed on the developing seeds in the flowers (2), they are also reported to be cannibalistic; if more than one egg is laid on a plant, this cannibalism gives one caterpillar an advantage, as it eliminates the competition (2). Caterpillars pupate in July (3) on tall vegetation near the foodplant (2), where they spend the winter as a pupa. The adults typically emerge the following May (3), although it has been discovered that in captivity, emergence can be delayed for up to two years, which may prevent an adult facing unsuitable conditions (2).
This resident species has a wide distribution in the southern half of Britain. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this butterfly was lost from many areas of Scotland. Since the 1940s, however, the orange-tip has extended its range. It also occurs throughout Ireland, much of Europe, reaching north to central Scandinavia, and extends through the Middle East and temperate Asia, reaching Japan. At present, this butterfly is spreading northwards in Europe (2).
For more on this species see: The Millennium Atlas of Butterflies in Britain and Europe (2001). By Asher, J., et al. Published by Oxford University Press.
For more on butterflies and their conservation see the Butterfly Conservation website:
Embed this Arkive thumbnail link ("portlet") by copying and pasting the code below.