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Butterfly Conservation

Butterfly Conservation- Glasgow & South West Scotland Branch

Orange Tip (Anthocaris cardamines)


The Orange Tip is one of the best known British butterflies owing to the bright orange wing tips of the male. However, the female is much more difficult to distinguish from both Small White & Green-veined White but can be identified by a black spot near the front edge of the forewing and the mottled green underside of the hindwings.

Credit: Anon
Credit: Jim Black
Credit: Scott Shanks

Life Cycle

The eggs are normally laid singly on Cuckooflower or Garlic Mustard although other plants such as Honesty and Dame’s Violet may be used, especially in gardens. They can quite easily be found by examining the flowers of Cuckooflower during May or early June as in the photo above. The caterpillars feed on developing seeds in flower heads and pupate in tall vegetation close to the foodplant in mid-summer. These pupae are the overwintering stage and in captivity it has been found that they can overwinter through two winters but this has not been confirmed in the wild. The pupae are normally pale brown and are distinctively elongated.

Flight Times

The Orange Tip is one of the first butterflies to be on the wing each year with the earliest flying in mid-April, the peak being May and then declining in early June. There is quite a lot of year to year variation with butterflies emerging earlier in warmer springs. A few individuals may be seen much later in July and August on occasions. In 1988, an individual was seen in September at Lochwinnoch and a male at Canderside, Stonehouse on 24 September 1994 suggesting a second brood. However, the Orange Tip is single brooded even in southern England so it is more likely that hatching is delayed for some reason in these late season exceptions.

Habitat & Distribution in SW Scotland

Distribution map 2010

There has been a dramatic increase in the distribution of Orange Tip in the branch area and in Scotland as a whole over the last twenty years, mainly as a result of climate warming. Up until the early 1980s, the Orange Tip had a restricted distribution in SW Scotland being confined to parts of Dumfries & Galloway and a few colonies in South Ayrshire and Lanarkshire .In the mid 1980s, it began to spread throughout southern Scotland and north up into Argyll. It is thought that a spread of Garlic Mustard during this period has assisted the spread but the main factor is certainly climate warming.

This increase in distribution in Scotland has been recorded by two Orange Tip postcard surveys, the first in 1997 and the second in 2007. The spread of Orange Tip in Argyll, East & West Inverness-shire and much of Aberdeenshire is dramatic and shows how mobile this butterfly is. It was thought that Orange Tip populations in Scotland were less mobile than in southern England but the postcard surveys show this not to be the case.

The habitat of the Orange Tip is generally quite wet as Cuckoo flower is found in wet grassy areas along roads and hedgerows and in marshy areas with scrub. But Orange Tip also frequent gardens where the foodplant is present.


  • Futter, K., Sutcliffe, R., Welham, D., Welham, A., Rostron, A., MacKay, J., Gregory, N., McCleary, J., Tait, T., Black, J. & Kirkland, P. 2006. Butterflies of South West Scotland. Argyll Publishing. (see Atlas page)
  • Asher, J., Warren, M, Fox, R., Harding, P., Jeffcoate, G., Jeffcoate, S. 2001. The Millennium Atlas of Butterflies in Britain & Ireland. Oxford University Press.

Written by Andrew Masterman

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