Rare in south England and the Burren region of western Ireland, this small butterfly with a slow flight is usually encountered in sheltered situations, such as woodland glades or scrub.

The upperwings are white with rounded edges. Males have a black mark on the edge of the forewing. The undersides are white, with indistinct grey markings.

Males fly almost continuously throughout the day in fine weather, patrolling to find a mate. Females spend much of their time feeding on flowers and resting.

In the characteristic courtship display, the male lands opposite the female and waves his head and antennae backwards and forwards with his proboscis extended.

The butterfly has a localised distribution in England and Wales and has declined rapidly over the past few decades.

Size and Family

  • Family: Whites and yellows
  • Size: Medium
  • Wing Span Range (male to female):  42mm

Conservation Status

  • Butterfly Conservation priority: High
  • Section 41 species of principal importance under the NERC Act in England
  • Section 42 species of principal importance under the NERC Act in Wales
  • UK BAP status: Priority Species       
  • Protected under Schedule 5 of the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act (for sale only)
  • European Status: Not threatened

Caterpillar Foodplants

Various legumes are used, commonly Meadow Vetchling (Lathyrus pratensis), Bitter-vetch (L. linifolius), Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca), Common Bird’s-foot-trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) and Greater Bird’s-foot-trefoil (L. pedunculatus). (Note that some vetches are not used, notably Bush Vetch, V. sepium, and Common Vetch, V. sativa).



The Wood White breeds in tall grassland or light scrub, in partially shaded or edge habitats. In Britain, most colonies breed in woodland rides and clearings, though a few large colonies occur on coastal undercliffs. A few smaller colonies occur on disused railway lines and around rough, overgrown field edges (for example in north Devon).

In Ireland, more open habitats are used, often far from woodland, including rough grassland with scrub, road verges, hedges, and disused railway lines.


  • Countries: England, Ireland and Wales
  • This rapidly declining species used to be found across much of southern England and into eastern Wales. Its strongholds are now the woods of the West Midlands and Northamptonshire and the coastline of East Devon.
  • Distribution trend in Britain since the 1970s = -65%


Wood White (male & female) by Peter Eeles

Wood White (male & female)

Wood White (underwing) by Jim Asher

Wood White (underwing)

Wood White (egg) by Keith Warmington

Wood White (egg)

Wood White (caterpillar) by Peter Eeles

Wood White (caterpillar)