The orange-tip butterfly

David Chapman / 22 March 2013

Among the first butterflies of spring is this exquisite orange-tipped butterfly.

Before the end of the month we can be sure to have seen our first bluebells of the year. Since their development occurs throughout the early spring the unfurling of their first flowers is quite predictable.

The emergence of the first butterflies of spring is far more variable but just a couple of warm days in March or April can provide enough incentive for a few species to take flight. 

The first butterflies to be seen each year are ones that survive the winter by hibernating in adult form, such species as the brimstone and peacock can even be seen on mild winter days.  Not many butterflies are born from pupae as early as April but the orange-tip usually manages this feat.

The male orange-tip is one of our most striking butterflies.  His white fore-wings have an obvious fiery orange band across their tips which can be clearly seen in flight.  Both male and female have intricately marked mossy green and white hind-wings which provide useful camouflage when they are at rest.

If you would like to encourage this butterfly in your garden then sow some seeds of the cuckoo flower or lady's smock (Cardamine pratensis).  This flower grows best in damp meadows and it is the food-plant of the orange-tip butterfly's caterpillars.

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