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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
The following set of pictures shows stages in the development cycle from egg to winged adult.
(i) The eggs are initially green, soon changing colour to...
(ii). Orange, as seen above and in the next picture...
(iii). which shows two eggs on the same plant... a potential recipe for fratricide to follow
(iv). Here (above) is an egg and a first-instar larva.
(v). Above: a pupating larva
(vi). This picture (above) shows the appearance at the start of the pupal stage.
(vii). This picture (above) shows the appearance on day 6 after pupation.
(viii) And finally the lovely adult (a male, of course, hence the wings have orange tips!).
This page includes pictures kindly contributed by Betty and Tony Rackham, Steve Jelf, and Marika Reinholds.
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