Quick facts

Common name: orange-tip

Scientific name: Anthocharis cardamines

Family: Pieridae

Habitat: woodland, hedgerows, parks and gardens

Caterpillar foodplants: cuckooflower, garlic mustard

Predators: birds

Origin: native

What do orange-tip butterflies look like?

Caterpillars: pale orange at first, becoming blue-green with a white line down each side. They are very difficult to spot.

Adults: the upper sides of the wings are white. Males have orange-tipped forewings and females have small black tips. Both have a black spot. The wing underside has a mottled green pattern. 

Wingspan: 4-5cm.

Not to be confused with: green-veined whites or small white butterflies.

Orange-tip butterfly on bluebell

Credit: Gillian Pullinger / WTML

What do orange-tip butterflies eat?

Caterpillars: eat cuckooflower and garlic mustard. They are also cannibalistic, sometimes eating the eggs of unhatched orange-tips.

Adults: feed on nectar.

Did you know?

Historical names for the orange-tip include lady of the woods, prince of orange and the white marbled butterfly.

How do orange-tip butterflies breed?

The female usually lays a single brood of eggs each year, but if spring starts early enough, there may be a small second brood. The caterpillars hatch on the developing seed pods of cuckooflower and garlic mustard.

After going through several instars (growth between moulting) and pupation by July, orange-tip butterflies leave their chrysalis at the start of spring. They are one of the earliest butterflies to appear which did not overwinter as adults.

Orange-tip butterfly on dandelion

Credit: Tony Cox / WTML

Where do orange-tip butterflies live?

Orange-tip butterflies can be found across the UK, excluding some northern areas of Scotland. Those found in Ireland and on the Isle of Man are a distinct subspecies (Hibernica) to those of mainland Britain (Britannica).

Did you know?

When the butterfly is resting, the marbled colouration of the underwing acts as camouflage.

Signs and spotting tips

Look out for them flying along woodland rides, hedgerows, meadows, flowering verges or riverbanks as well as in gardens. You have a great chance of spotting one at one of the UK’s largest unimproved grasslands at Tring Park.

Orange-tip butterfly female close-up

Credit: Ian Johnston / Alamy Stock Photo

Threats and conservation

The UK’s orange-tip population is doing well, and in recent decades has even increased its range across Scotland. It is not currently a species of conservation concern.