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Orange-tip Butterfly - Anthocharis cardamines

Phylum: Arthropoda - Class: Insecta - Order: Lepidoptera - Family: Pieridae

Orange-tip Butterfly (male)

The male Orange-tip butterfly (above) is immediately recognisable by the distinctive orange sectors on the wing tips. The Provencal Orange-tip Anthocharis euphenoides is similar but the background colour of the male upperwings is a lovely deep yellow.

Orange-tip butterfly, female

Females (above) lack the orange colouring and so from the top they might easily be confused with the Small White butterfly, Pieris rapae; however the greenish patterning on the underside of the hindwings of both male and female Orange-tip butterflies (see picture below) is an aid to identification.

Orange-tip butterfly - wings closed (female)

Distribution

Increasingly common in Britain and Ireland, these attractive, early-season butterflies occur throughout Europe and in most temperate parts of Asia. A similar, closely-related species can be seen in parts of the USA.

Male Orange-tip Butterfly on Honesty, southern France

Male Orange-tip Butterfly on flowers of Honesty, southern France

Lifecycle

In Britain and Ireland the first Orange-tips usually emerge in mid April, but in very warm springs you might see them before the end of March, while a cold start to the year can delay their appearance by a week or two. By mid May there are usually plenty of males and females on the wing, but by early June the males and most of the females will have disappeared. In mainland European countries the flight season in mountainous regions can extend into July.

Orange-tip butterfly - wings closed (female)

These meadow butterflies seek out Cardamine pratensis (commonly referred to as either Cuckooflower, Milkmaids or Lady's Smock, although they also have several other common names), Alliaria petiolata (Garlic Mustard - also known as Jack-by-the-Hedge) and other members of the Brassicaceae or cabbage family. Pale green eggs are laid singly, upon the flower stalks and usually just one egg per plant, and after a few days the eggs turn orange and then grey. (When more than one larva emerges on a plant it is not unusual for one to attack and consume any others.)

An egg of the Orange-tip Butterfly

It takes just over a week for the eggs to hatch, and the caterpillars, initially orange but turning green as they mature, feed first on the flowers of their host plant and later on the flower stalks, seedpods and leaves. The mature caterpillars are distinguished by blue-green upper bodies and darker green underbodies delineated by a whitish lateral line.

Larva of Orange-tip Butterfly Anthocharis cardamines

When ready to pupate, caterpillars that have been feeding on Cuckooflower attach themselves to a nearby woody stem, whereas those (often emerging a week or two later) on Garlic Mustard nearly always pupate on the stems of their larval foodplant.

Orange-tip Butterfly, male underwing view

Acknowledgements

This page includes pictures kindly contributed by Steve Jelf and Marika Reinholds.

Orange-tip Butterfly, southern France

Studying butterflies and moths...


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