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Orange tip (Anthocharis cardamines)

The appearance of this butterfly is a characteristic sign of spring, with the colouring of the male giving this species its name.

Common name: orange tip butterfly

Scientific name: Anthocharis cardamines
Family: Pieridae

Appearance

Caterpillars: pale orange at first, becoming blue-green with a white line down each side, they are very difficult to spot. They hatch on the developing seed pods of cuckooflower and garlic mustard. On hatching they eat their own egg shell. They are cannibalistic so will also eat any other orange tip eggs they find.

Adults: the upper sides of the wings are white. Males have orange-tipped forewings and females have small black tips and both have a black spot. Females are sometimes mistaken for a green-veined white or small white butterfly. The wing underside has a mottled green pattern.

Wingspan: 4-5cm.

Food plants

Caterpillars: mainly cuckooflower and garlic mustard but also other species like hedge mustard.

Adults: obtain nectar from different flowers.

When to spot them

April to June.

Where to spot them

Orange tip butterflies can be found across the UK, excluding some northern areas of Scotland. Look out for them flying along woodland rides, hedgerows, meadows, flowering verges or riverbanks as well as in gardens.

Top Woodland Trust woods for orange tip butterflies

Good places for orange tip butterfly spotting in spring and summer include Hucking Estate in Kent.

You can also look out for them and other butterflies at one of the UK's largest areas of unimproved chalk grassland at Tring Park in Hertfordshire.

The small but well-loved Alex Wood in Lancashire is a good place to hunt for orange tips as is Old Warren Woodland near Lisburn in Northern Ireland.

Further north in Scotland, the spectacular Lang Craigs at the foot of the Kilpatrick Hills is an excellent place to spot wildlife. 

In the warmer months you’ll see a huge variety of insects including orange tip, ringlet and the rarer small pearl-bordered fritillary.

Fascinating orange tip facts

  • Orange tip butterflies leave their chrysalis at the start of spring, and are one of the earliest butterflies to appear which did not overwinter as adults.
  • When the butterfly is resting the marbled colouration of the underwing acts as camouflage.
  • The female lays a single brood of eggs each year, but if spring starts early enough, there may be a small second brood.