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Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni)

Brimstone butterflies are avid sunbathers and even better impressionists, throwing perfect leaf shapes when they settle among holly, bramble or ivy. They are one of the few UK butterflies to hibernate.

Common name: brimstone

Latin name: Gonepteryx rhamni


Caterpillars:  green and remarkably well camouflaged being the same green as the leaves of its food plant. It is often found lying along leaf margins.

Adults: medium-large butterflies with leaf-shaped wings. Females have pale green wings and males have lemon-yellow wings. Both have a small orange spot on each wing.

Wingspan: up to 6cm.

Food plants

Caterpillars: leaves of buckthorn and alder buckthorn.

Adults: their long proboscis enables them to take nectar from flowers such as teasel that are beyond the reach of many other butterflies. They prefer to drink from purple flowers.

When to spot them

March to July.

Brimstone is often cited as one of the first butterflies of the year because adults hibernate over winter in woodlands and emerge on warm spring days. New adults emerge from their chrysalis in July and live for a year. 

Where to spot them

You’ve a great chance to see brimstones: they have spread in recent years and are now found throughout much of the UK, except in Scotland. Look for them flitting through gardens and along woodland rides, or spiralling skyward with their partners then tumbling down into the bushes to mate.

Top Woodland Trust woods for brimstones

They  have made it as far north as Hyning Scout, a lush ancient wood near Warton in Lancashire, and you’ll also find them at the much newer George Henry Wood in Rutland and Worms Wood, east of Bognor in East Sussex. They are inside the M25 too, at Blackbush & Twenty Acre Shaw Woods near Downe; at Culvery Wood, south of Bristol; and in Wales at Cwm George & Casehill Woods, close to Cardiff.

Discover brimstones in other woods too. To find woods near you, type your town or postcode into our search box.

Fascinating brimstone facts

  • It is thought the word butterfly itself might stem from ‘butter-coloured fly’, in tribute to the brimstone’s hue.
  • It's one of the first butterflies to appear after the winter since adults hibernate and become active as soon as the weather starts to warm up.
  • Females have much paler, whitish-green leaves.
  • They always settle with their wings closed, and their wing shape is designed to match the foliage they are resting against.