Orange-tip Anthocharis cardamines (Linnaeus 1758)

Family: Pieridae, subgroup Pierinae (The Whites)


Header photo by Jim Dignan

Photo above left of a male by RD Burton

Photo above middle of a female by N Fearnley

Photo above right of a male by CN Cox

The male of this species is impossible to mix up with any other white species because it is creamy white with upper forewings that have very bright orange patches on them and black tips.

The female is harder to distinguish from other white when looking at the upper wings because it is fairly plain white with grey-black wing tips and wing edges, but both sexes can easily be identified from the green blotchy patterning on the underside of the lower wings. The green patterning is actually a mix of yellow and black scales which combine to give a mossy green colour.

Males fly a large circuit of several hundred meters endlessly in quite a determined and repetitive way while females sit and wait for males to approach. If there is an obstacle in the way of a male, e.g. a clear greenhouse with an open door, being rescued and released doesn’t stop them flying the exact same path again a few minutes later.


The Orange-tip thrives in damp meadows, marshy areas and river banks with cuckoo flower Cardamine pratense and gardens, road verges or woodland rides with garlic mustard Alliaria petiolata. The species also uses many other cruciferous species as foodplants. In the writer’s experience the Orange-tip does not seem to thrive on higher ground and at lower levels prefers to get some shelter from winds by flying fairly close to trees or hedges. Despite being a spring butterfly it still suffers from bad weather.

The butterfly is hindered by the cutting or grazing of damp meadows before the larvae have had a chance to pupate and also by the disappearance of meadows generally. Hopefully the reduction in mowing of road verges and the encouragement of hedgerows may be helping the species.


Orange-tips are widespread and quite common in Yorkshire, though perhaps more localised in the north than in the south of the county.

In Yorkshire it is thought to be an under reported species because it flies in spring when people are less likely to be out recording, especially on higher ground, plus females tend to be overlooked.

Worldwide it is found over most of Europe down to southern Spain and up to central Scandinavia, plus eastwards to Asia.

Life Cycle

The Orange-tip is single brooded though there is some debate about whether or not there is a second brood in the south of England. The adults are on the wing April to June but it can be as early as March. Males generally emerge about one or two weeks before females during the first warm spell.

The female lays bright orange cone-shaped eggs singly on cruciferous plants in May and June. The female is able to apply a chemical test via her feet to ensure the plant she chooses contains mustard oils, which make the butterflies taste nasty to birds. The male's orange tips serve as a warning of that taste.

Eggs hatch after about two weeks into pale orange larvae, which feed on the developing seed heads of the plant. By the second instar the larvae are pale green and by the last instar they have pale green stripes down each side and are almost identical in size and colour to the seed pods they feed on. You have to look very hard to spot them. Each larva needs the benefit of a whole plant and in the event of additional eggs having been laid on the same plant, the strongest larva will often eat any opposition. However the writer has seen two larvae of different instars survive on the same plant. Larvae are subject to attacks from other insects, birds and a parasitic fly Phryxe vulgaris.

After three to four weeks they leave their foodplants and travel for up to 30 hours to pupate. Pupae are bright green initially then turn a buff green and are buried deep in protective vegetation, possibly quite high up. They do not pupate on their food plants, probably because the foodplants wither over winter and would not be a stable perch. Winter is passed in the pupal stage. Emmet & Heath (1989) suggested that occasionally this may last through a second winter and that might explain adults being occasionally seen in later summer, perhaps because something has triggered an interruption to a second winter hibernation.

Photo above top right by Wendy North

Photos above by Catherine Jones of egg above of egg on garlic mustard flower, second instar larva and pupa. The pupa later turned a grey colour.


The species is not under threat.


This is a very variable species with over 50 aberrations that have been described, including males with yellow rather than orange wing tips. Very small specimens can also be found.

With thanks to The Butterflies of Yorkshire by Howard M Frost

Catherine Jones 22/01/2021