Anthocharis cardamines (an-thoh-KAR-iss kar-da-MY-neez)

Orange Tip male - Castle Hills Solihull 19.04.2014
Photo © Neil Freeman

40 - 52mm

Checklist Number

Family:PieridaeSwainson, 1820
Subfamily:PierinaeDuponchel, 1835
Tribe:AnthochariniTutt, 1894
Genus:AnthocharisBoisduval, Rambur & Graslin, [1833]
Species:cardamines(Linnaeus, 1758)
Subspecies:britannica (Verity, 1908)
 hibernica (Williams, 1916)

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The Orange-tip is a true sign of spring, being one of the first species to emerge that has not overwintered as an adult. The male and female of this species are very different in appearance. The more-conspicuous male has orange tips to the forewings, that give this butterfly its name. These orange tips are absent in the female and the female is often mistaken for one of the other whites, especially the Green-veined White or Small White. This butterfly is found throughout England, Wales and Ireland, but is somewhat-local further north and especially in Scotland. In most regions this butterfly does not form discrete colonies and wanders in every direction as it flies along hedgerows and woodland margins looking for a mate, nectar sources or foodplants. More northerly colonies are more compact and also more restricted in their movements.

Anthocharis cardamines ssp. cardamines

The species was first defined in Linnaeus (1758) as shown here (type locality: Sweden). The nominate subspecies has not been recorded in the British Isles.

Anthocharis cardamines ssp. britannica

This subspecies was first defined in Verity (1908) (type locality: England).

This subspecies is found throughout the British Isles, with the exception of Ireland and the Isle of Man. Williams (1916) disagrees with a particular aspect of the definition: "The extension of the black apical markings to the anal angle, however, is surely not so common in British specimens as to justify its use as a character differentiating British from continental specimens. I have only two specimens agreeing exactly with the description".

Anthocharis cardamines ssp. britannica (Verity, 1908)

Original (French)

Dans les îles Britanniques cardamines tend à prendre une forme assez particulière (fig.8) qui se distingue par la coupe assez allongée et étroite des antérieures, par le peu d'étendue de la tache aurore, surtout vers l'angle interne, et par l'étendue de la tache noire apicale, qui s'étend jusqu'à l'angle interne et dont le contour est très diffus. Quoiqu'on rencontre des individus semblables à ceux du continent cette race locale mérite le nom de britannica.


In the British Isles, cardamines tends to take a rather particular form (fig.8), distinguished by the somewhat long and narrow shape of the forewings, by the limited extent of the golden spot, especially towards the anal angle, and by the extent of the black apical spot, which reaches to the anal angle and is ill-defined. Although one finds individuals similar to those on the continent this local race merits the name Britannica.

Orange Tip male - Five Oaks, Sussex 8-April-2014

Photo © Neil Hulme

Orange-tip male -  Five Oaks, Sussex 30-Mar-2014

Male Underside
Photo © Neil Hulme

Orange-tip female - Solihull West Midlands 28.04.2014

Photo © Neil Freeman

Orange-tip female - Solihull West Midlands 23.05.2015

Female Underside
Photo © Neil Freeman

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Anthocharis cardamines ssp. hibernica

This subspecies was first defined in Williams (1916).

This subspecies is common throughout Ireland. Chalmers-Hunt (1970) extends the distribution of this subspecies to the Isle of Man, acknowledging that "The earliest reference to cardamines as Manx is to be found in Newman (1870), most probably on Birchall's authority". This subspecies differs from the subspecies britannica as follows:

  • 1. It is slightly smaller although, according to Dennis (1977), Huggins (pers. comm.) contests this.
  • 2. The black markings on the upperside fringes are more strongly marked.
  • 3. The underside forewing of the male is frequently tinged yellow although this is also, according to Dennis (1977), contested by Huggins (pers. comm.) on the grounds that this feature is no less common in England.
  • 4. The upperside hindwing of the female is strongly tinged yellow. According to Ford (1945) "This condition is rare but not unknown in Britain" and Dennis (1977) states that "this character is only more or less common to the normal white form".
  • Anthocharis cardamines ssp. hibernica (Williams, 1916)

    Slightly smaller on the average than the type, the black spots at the ends of the nervures more strongly marked. The ♂ frequently suffused with yellow on the underside of the forewing, the ♀ usually with the hindwing strongly suffused with yellow.

    This form appears to occur throughout Ireland. It is figured in South (Butts. Brit. Isles, pl. 17).

    Orange-tip ssp. hibernica - male - Craigavon Lakes - 18-Apr-14-8

    Photo © Pete Eeles

    Orange-tip ssp. hibernica - male - Craigavon Lakes - 18-Apr-14-9

    Male Underside
    Photo © Pete Eeles

    Orange-tip ssp. hibernica - female - Craigavon Lakes - 21-Apr-14-18

    Photo © Pete Eeles

    Orange-tip ssp. hibernica - female - Craigavon Lakes - 21-Apr-14-10

    Female Underside
    Photo © Pete Eeles

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Conservation Status

This is one of the few butterflies whose population and distribution are both increasing and, as such, is not a species of conservation concern.

UK BAP StatusDistribution Trend (%)Population Trend (%)
Not Listed
Insufficient Data

The table above shows the distribution and population trends of species regularly found in the British Isles. The distribution trend represents a comparison between data for the periods 1995-1999 and 2005-2009. The information provided is taken from the Butterfly Conservation report The State of the UK's Butterflies 2011. The UK BAP status is taken from the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP) (2007 review).


The species has a wide range of habitats which include country lanes, hedgerows, riverbanks, woodland margins and rides, and damp meadows. The species will also turn up in gardens.



Click here to see the distribution of this species or here to see the distribution of this species together with specific site information overlaid.

Life Cycle

There is a single brood each year, with adults flying from the beginning of April, through May and into June. In exceptionally early years a small second brood may appear.

Anthocharis cardamines ssp. britannica

Anthocharis cardamines ssp. hibernica

The chart(s) above have been correlated with the phenology plot below, taken from the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme. The blue line gives average counts over the full data set from 1976 to date, and the red line gives the average for the last year.


Males are more-often noticed than females, largely due to the highly-visible orange splashes seen as the male butterfly flits along. It is believed that the orange tips of the male are an example of warning colouration, indicating that the butterfly is not particularly palatable to predators - a result of mustard oils that have accumulated in the body from the larval foodplant. The male is also the more-active of the two sexes as it searches out a mate and can be seen flying for long periods without ever stopping to rest or nectar. The female, on the other hand, is usually more concerned with egg-laying and, as a consequence, is often found in the vicinity of foodplants. Her more-secretive behaviour may also explain why she does not exhibit the warning colouration present in the male.

Both sexes have an amazing underside pattern of green blotches formed by a combination of yellow and black scales. When at rest on a flower head of the foodplant this butterfly so well camouflaged that an adult resting just a few feet away can easily be missed, even by an experienced observer.

When searching out suitable plants on which to lay, the female will initially locate a plant by sight before alighting on the plant and tasting it with her feet. If the plant is suitable, a single egg is laid on a flower stalk. Eggs are laid singly for good reason - the larvae are cannibalistic. As a result, it is uncommon to find more than one egg per plant and it is believed that the female is able to detect eggs that have already been laid.

Adults feed primarily on Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scriptus), Bramble (Rubus fruticosus), Bugle (Ajuga reptans), Cuckooflower (Cardamine pratensis), Dandelion (Taraxacum agg.), Greater Stitchwort (Stellaria holostea), Hawkweeds (Hieracium/Hypochoeris), Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi), Red Campion (Silene dioica) and Vetches (Vicia spp.).

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Eggs are a greenish-white when first laid, but gradually turn orange and are one of the easiest eggs of all species to find, tucked away on a flower stalk of the foodplant.

Eggs are sometimes found on the same plants as those used by the Green-veined White. However, the two species are not in competition since the Green-veined White eats the leaves of the plant, whereas the Orange-tip primarily feeds on the developing seed pods. The larva emerges after 1 or 2 weeks.

Orange Tip Ovum - Crawley, Sussex 5-May-09

Photo © Vince Massimo

Orange-Tip - ovum - Thatcham - 02-May-04 (2) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles

Orange tip egg on Garlic Mustard 25-5-12

Photo © ChrisC

Orange Tip Ovum - About To Hatch - Somerset - 05/06/13

Photo © William

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The larva eats its eggshell on hatching and, given its cannibalistic tendencies, will also eat any other Orange-tip eggs it encounters. The main source of food is developing seed pods, although the larva will also eat flowers and leaves on occasion. The caterpillar is superbly camouflaged in all instars, especially when resting lengthwise along a developing seed pod.

The larva will travel extensively in search of a suitable pupation site. There are 4 moults in total and the larval stage lasts between 3 and 4 weeks.

The primary larval foodplants are Cuckooflower (Cardamine pratensis) and Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata). Charlock (Sinapis arvensis), Hairy Rock-cress (Arabis hirsuta), Hedge Mustard (Sisymbrium officinale), Large Bitter-cress (Cardamine amara), Turnip (Brassica rapa) and Winter-cress (Barbarea vulgaris) are also used.

Orange Tip Larva - preparing to pupate (showing "embryonic wings") - Somerset - 30/06/13

Photo © William

Orange-tip - larva - Thatcham - 24-May-15-2

Photo © Pete Eeles

Orange tip larva preparing to pupate (showing "embyronic wings") - Somerset 30-June-2013

Photo © William

Orange Tip Larva (Reared) Caterham, Surrey 31-May-11

Photo © Vince Massimo

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The pupa is formed upright on a plant stem or some other vertical surface that provides a suitable overwintering site, attached by a silk girdle and the cremaster. The pupa is green when first formed, with the majority eventually turning light brown to more-closely match its surroundings. This species overwinters in this stage.

Orange Tip Pupa (hatching process) Caterham, Surrey 25-April-12

Photo © Vince Massimo

Orange Tip Pupa (green form) - Caterham, Surrey 4-July-12

Photo © Vince Massimo

Orange-tip - pupa - Thatcham - 29-Apr-13 (3) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles

Orange-tip pupa montage

Photo © jamesweightman
Reared 3 day old pupa viewed from different angles. 22/5/2011

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Description to be completed.

Click here to see the aberration descriptions and images for this species.

Similar Species

Bath White

Description to be completed.

Green-veined White

Description to be completed.


Watch Video

The following links provide additional information on this butterfly.


The species description provided here references the following publications:

Boisduval, Rambur & Graslin (1833) Boisduval, J.A., Rambur, P. & Graslin, A. (1833) Collection iconographique et historique des chenilles; ou, Description et figures des chenilles d'Europe, avec l'histoire de leurs métamorphoses, et des applications à l'agriculture.
Chalmers-Hunt (1970) Chalmers-Hunt, J.M. (1970) The Butterflies and Moths of the Isle of Man. Transactions of the Society for British Entomology.
Dennis (1977) Dennis, R.L.H. (1977) The British Butterflies - Their Origin and Establishment.
Duponchel (1835) Duponchel, P.A.J. (1835) Histoire naturelle des lépidoptères ou papillons de France, par M. J.-B. Godart. Continuée par P.-A.-J. Duponchel. Diurnes. Supplément aux tomes premier et deuxième.
Ford (1945) Ford, E.B. (1945) Butterflies.
Linnaeus (1758) Linnaeus, C. (1758) Systema Naturae. Edition 10.
Newman (1870) Newman, E. (1870) An Illustrated Natural History of British Butterflies.
Swainson (1820) Swainson, W. (1820) Zoological illustrations, or Original figures and descriptions of new, rare, or interesting animals : selected chiefly from the classes of ornithology, entomology, and conchology, and arranged on the principles of Cuvier and other modern zoologists (Vol.1).
Tutt (1894) Tutt, J.W. (1894) The Genera Pieris, Schrk., and Euchloe. The Canadian Entomologist.
Verity (1908) Verity, R. (1908) Rhopalocera Palaearctica, Iconographie et Description des Papillons diurnes de la région paléarctique. Papilionidae et Pieridae.
Williams (1916) Williams, H.B. (1916) Notes on the life-history and variation of Euchloë cardamines L.. Transactions of City of London Natural History Society.