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Orange tip butterfly

Insect

Anthocharis cardamines

This butterfly has white uppersides to its wings. It is only the males that have orange-tipped forewings; females have small black tips. In both sexes the undersides of the hindwings are mottled with moss-green. The orange tips warn predators that this butterfly is highly distasteful.

Orange-tips are common throughout lowland England and Wales, but are rarer in Scotland. Females lay single, pale, spindle-shaped eggs on the underside of flower buds. These eggs turn deep orange after a few days.

The caterpillars hatch and feed on the developing seed pod. They are green and extremely hard to spot. Orange-tip caterpillars are cannibalistic, liable to eat another of their own species should they meet. Each caterpillar leaves its foodplant to overwinter as a chrysalis, probably in bushes and tall vegetation. Adults emerge in April.

What does it eat?

Adults drink nectar from flowers. Caterpillars eat garlic mustard and lady's smock, sometimes also sweet rocket and honesty in gardens.

When will I see it?

Adults between April and June. Caterpillars from May to July.

Where will I see it?

Flying along hedges and across the garden. Caterpillars on lady's smock/cuckoo flower, garlic mustard, sweet rocket and honesty. Also in meadows, hedgerows, woodland edges.

Vital statistics

Length: 45 mm across forewings

Calendar

Not seen in JanuaryNot seen in FebruaryNot seen in MarchSeen in AprilSeen in MaySeen in JuneSeen in JulyNot seen in AugustNot seen in SeptemberNot seen in OctoberNot seen in NovemberNot seen in December

Key to calendar