The first Orange-tip sighting of the year brings the same sense of excitement as glimpsing that first Swallow – it means spring has sprung!
Orange-tips, harbingers of the warmer weather to come, are one of our most exotic-looking butterflies and will be on the wing this month.
With their resplendent bright orange wing tips, Orange-tips usually start to emerge in late March or early April. Its first appearance and the main peak of its emergence and annual flight period have shifted significantly since the mid-1970s and now take place much earlier in the year. This change appears to be a response to temperatures in the early part of the year (Feb-April), with warmer conditions hastening the development of the overwintered Orange-tip pupae.
But such a relationship works both ways and so, after an unusually cold few months this year, we might expect Orange-tips to be rather late in appearing this year – still, better late than never.
The dashing flight of male Orange-tip (only the males boast the dapper orange colouration) is a quintessential springtime sight and a sign that the butterfly-year is well and truly underway. It is a lively and mobile butterfly, often seen flying along hedges and roadside verges, but equally at home in meadows or woodland, and a common visitor to gardens. Females exhibit an amazing ability to locate suitable foodplants, usually Garlic Mustard or Cuckooflower, for their offspring, so even seemingly isolated plants growing in gardens may well be visited. Check for the distinctive orange, skittle-shaped eggs, which are usually laid singly (to avoid competition and cannibalism between Orange-tip caterpillars) on the stalk immediately below flowers or buds.
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