The Orange Tip butterfly is a widespread and common white butterfly in our area in early spring.
The males in flight cannot be confused with any other butterfly as they have a large, vivid, orange wing tip which appears as a bright orange flash as they fly around.
The females on the other hand have no orange tip and in flight look very similar to the Small White and Green-veined White butterflies which fly at the same time and are about the same size, often sharing the same habitat.
When the female Orange Tip lands it can easily be distinguished from the others as it is the only one where the underside of the hindwing appears white with mottled green.
Orange Tip butterflies are often found along sunny river banks, hedgerows and policy woodland, especially where it is slightly damp.
The favourite food plants for the caterpillars are the Cuckoo Flower, Cardamine pratensis, which can be found in damp grassland and Garlic Mustard , Alliaria petiolata, which is frequent in open woodland and roadside verges.
The female Orange Tip lays her eggs singly in the flower heads and the resulting caterpillar will feed on the seedpods, so there is no need to fear that they will feed on your brassicas in the vegetable garden.
After about 25 days the caterpillar will pupate and will remain in this state until warm weather the next spring.
The Orang Tip butterfly has undergone an interesting series of changes over the last 150 years.
It was once widespread and common, then, for some unknown reason its numbers crashed and it disappeared and there are no records in the Scottish Borders between 1897 and 1970, why should this happen when the food plants continued to grow here is a mystery.
Around 1970 it started to re-appear and there was a population ‘explosion’ in 1978 and since then has become a widespread and common species in the Borders.
In southern England there has been a marked decline possibly due to habitat loss but is still expanding its range in parts of North-west Scotland. Maybe up here in the Borders it appreciates global warming.
It can be found across much of Europe through to the Middle East.
If it is a nice warm, sunny day go out and have a walk along one of our riversides or through an estate woodland and with a little bit of luck you will be rewarded with a white butterfly with a bright orange flash on its wings, the Orange Tip.