Warmer temperatures this Spring have meant that the Orange tip butterfly flight times have been much earlier than previous years. Despite our very harsh winter temperatures we have had dozens of them fleeting in the air. They are like little windswept petals floating in the breeze from one flower to the next in search of nectar.
Lifecycle of the Anthocharis cardamines butterfly
Scottish wildflowers like dandelions, garlic mustard and lady’s smock are their favourite nectar stops. In fact the damp conditions around Perth lade seem to have encouraged a colony of this species to thrive.
They are the most restless of butterflies to try and photograph. So far I’ve just managed to photograph the male as he patrols the hedgerows probably looking for a female. I’ve got in the way of many a flight path recently and slightest shadow from the lens near their bodies and off they flutter to another flower.
The male certainly isn’t so easy to miss while as his orange forewings are very noticeable in the air. His orange tips are a warning signal to predatory birds that he doesn’t taste so good. Any bird that has ever eaten an orange tip only eats one of them once and never forgets the experience.
Well would you like to swallow a big spoonful of mustard oil?
He has a beautiful mosaic of green markings on the underside of his hindwings which is a great camouflage when he is ‘nectaring’ on the wild mustard flowers.
I’ve been patrolling the hedgerows looking for the females as well. However they are quite an elusive butterfly. Their fore wings are dipped in grey rather than orange. But they too have the pretty mosaic of green markings on their hind wings. Unfortunately they get mistaken for a common ‘white’ butterfly by many people.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
By mid May the first of the eggs have been laid by the females so I went out with my camera to try and find some. Well I didn’t think it would be so easy! The first clump of garlic mustard flowers I came across had a little orange egg just below the flowers. Then I saw another and then another! If you are going out looking for the eggs make sure you look in areas where you have seen the butterflies previously.
Normally the female butterfly leaves a pheromone behind on the plant after laying the egg. That’s so that other butterflies know not to lay an egg there. If it isn’t detected on a large plant then that’s when the cannibalistic tendencies of the species start to show themselves.
The first larvae to hatch will eat the other eggs on the plant. In addition if one of the green caterpillars meets another on the same plant then one will eat the other as they compete for survival. Oh dear I found 3 eggs on one large garlic mustard plant!
Usually there is one egg laid on each plant as only one plant can sustain the ferocious appetite of the larvae. Hmmm another Very Hungry Caterpillar! In this case about 6 garlic mustard seed pods a day!
The Chrysalis – The Winter Retreat
They form a chrysalis in the hedgerows near their food source for the winter months and then emerge as adults once the first warm days of spring arrive.
…and so the cycle of life starts all over again.