Orange-tip (Anthocharis cardamines)

Male orange-tip butterfly
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Orange-tip fact file

Orange-tip description

GenusAnthocharis (1)

Only male invertebrates_freshwater butterflies actually have orange tips to their forewings; females have black or greyish wing tips (1). In both sexes, the undersides of the hindwings have a dappled pattern of yellowish-black scales, which provides good camouflage when the butterfly is at rest amongst vegetation (2). The caterpillar reaches 3 cm in length, and is pale bluish- or greyish-green with white sides. The whole body is peppered with fine black spots (3).

Wingspan: 4-5 cm (1)

Orange-tip biology

The main foodplants of the caterpillars are cuckooflower (Cardamine pratensis), and garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata); although a range of other members of the crucifer family are used (2). A single generation is produced each year (3); adults usually fly between mid-April and mid-June (2), and females lay eggs singly during May or June on the flower heads of the foodplants (3). The eggs, which are white at first, turn orange after 2-3 days, and are easy to spot (2). It is very rare to find more than one egg on a flower; studies have shown that females mark the flowers on which they have laid an egg with a pheromone, and other females are deterred from laying there as a result. This ensures that each larva has sufficient food in its early stages (2). During June and July (3) the caterpillars feed on the developing seeds in the flowers (2), they are also reported to be cannibalistic; if more than one egg is laid on a plant, this cannibalism gives one caterpillar an advantage, as it eliminates the competition (2). Caterpillars pupate in July (3) on tall vegetation near the foodplant (2), where they spend the winter as a pupa. The adults typically emerge the following May (3), although it has been discovered that in captivity, emergence can be delayed for up to two years, which may prevent an adult facing unsuitable conditions (2).


Orange-tip range

This resident species has a wide distribution in the southern half of Britain. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this butterfly was lost from many areas of Scotland. Since the 1940s, however, the orange-tip has extended its range. It also occurs throughout Ireland, much of Europe, reaching north to central Scandinavia, and extends through the Middle East and temperate Asia, reaching Japan. At present, this butterfly is spreading northwards in Europe (2).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.

Orange-tip habitat

Found in a variety of grassy, damp habitats, including meadows and road verges (2).


Orange-tip status

This widespread species is not threatened. It is not listed under any conservation designations.


Orange-tip threats

Not currently threatened.


Orange-tip conservation

No conservation action is targeted at this widespread species.

There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Atlas.
View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

For more on this species see: The Millennium Atlas of Butterflies in Britain and Europe (2001). By Asher, J., et al. Published by Oxford University Press. For more on butterflies and their conservation see the Butterfly Conservation website:



This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:


A chemical produced by an animal, which stimulates a behavioural or physiological response by another member of the same species.
Stage in an insect's development when huge changes occur, which reorganise the larval form into the adult form. In butterflies the pupa is also called a chrysalis.
The process of forming a pupa, the stage in an insect's development, when huge changes occur that reorganise the larval form into the adult form. In butterflies the pupa is also called a chrysalis.


  1. Carter, D. (1992) Butterflies and moths. Dorling Kindersley, London.
  2. Asher, J., Warren, M., Fox, R., Harding, P., Jeffcoate, G. & Jeffcoate, S. (2001) The Millennium Atlas of Butterflies in Britain and Ireland. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  3. Carter, D. & Hargreaves, B. (1986) A field guide to caterpillars of butterflies and moths in Britain and Europe. William Collins & Sons Ltd, London.

Image credit

Male orange-tip butterfly  
Male orange-tip butterfly

© Duncan McEwan /

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