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Nature Note - Orange Tip Butterfly

If you have already seen a butterfly this year it is likely to have been one of the species that hibernate and emerge to fly around on warm days. A number of people have told me that they noticed Brimstone and Red Admiral butterflies for example, in the un-seasonally warm spell at the end of February.

Photos courtesy of Rod Baker

The Orange Tip butterfly is an early butterfly but it is a bit special. It spends most of its life as a chrysalis and emerges in early Spring. It provides delight to butterfly watchers for a few weeks then disappears until the next generation appears the following Spring.

Many of our spring wildflowers are blue or purple. This leads to spectacularly colourful images of a white butterfly with vivid orange wing-tips, collecting nectar from flowers such as bluebells. A background of bright green spring foliage completes the picture.

Female Orange Tips have the upper-wing all white and could be confused with other ‘white’ butterflies. However both sexes have beautifully marked undersides to the wings with a marbled pattern of white and dark green.

The good news for gardeners is that Orange Tip caterpillars don’t feed on brassicas. They like ‘cruciform’ flowers such as Lady’s Smock, Garlic Mustard and Honesty. They also eat one another, not one of their nicer habits!

See if you can find an Orange Tip butterfly this year, they are widely distributed in the countryside and will come into gardens.

However, don’t hang about. If you don’t find one before early June you will have missed out until next Spring. If you are keen on a challenge, try to find a female.

David Scott
Issue 411
April 2019

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