A male Orange-tip feeding on the flowers of Honesty. © 2019 - 2021 Steven Cheshire.
The Orange-tip is a medium sized butterfly which is often seen in gardens and along hedgerows and roadside verges, especially in wet, marshy areas or near water. Males have white wings with orange wing tips. The females are white with black wing tips and can be easily confused with the Small White.
Both the male and female have mottled pattern of yellow and black scales on the underside hindwings which provides excellent camouflage when they roost on flower heads such as Cow Parsley.
This butterfly is usually seen in damp grassy habitats or near to river banks, streams and brooks where Cuckooflower (also known as Lady's Smock), the primary larvae foodplant grows or along woodland hedgerows where Garlic/Hedge Mustard is found.
The larvae of the Orange-tip feed on Cuckooflower/Lady's Smock (Cardamine pratensis), Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), Hedge Mustard (Sisymbrium officinale), Turnip (Brassica rapa), Charlock (Sinapis avensis), Hairy Rock-cress (Arabis hirsuta) and Winter-cress (Barbarea vulgaris).
Eggs are usually laid singly on a variety of foodplants located in bright sunshine in damp meadows or road verges, disused railway lines and ditches. On hatching, the larvae immediately eat the shell of its egg before feeding on the host plant. The larvae eat the seeds, developing seed pods and flower-heads. By the fourth instar the larvae may eat up to six Garlic Mustard seed pods in a day pausing every so often to rest.
The caterpillars are known to be cannibalistic and it is thought that a single Cuckooflower plant may only sustain one larvae.
It is relatively easy to encourage Orange-tip butterflies to breed in sub-urban gardens. A few Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) or Hedge Mustard (Sisymbrium officinale) plants readily attract females seeking places to lay their eggs. If you have a damp lawn, especially in a semi shaded spot, growing Cuckooflower/Lady's Smock (Cardamine pratensis) will also attract females to lay.
The Orange-tip is a widespread species in Warwickshire and can turn up just about anywhere in the region during its spring flight season.