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Butterfly taxonomy (classification) The skippers The swallowtails The whites The hairstreaks, coppers and blues. Includes the Duke of Burgundy. The nymphalids, fritillaries and browns. Includes the Monarch.
27.7.2013  male Brimstone, Surrey 040
Wingspan
60 - 74mm
Photo © hideandseek
Brimstone

Gonepteryx rhamni
go-NEP-tuh-ricks
RAM-ny
Number: 58.013
B&F No.: 1546
Family:Pieridae (Duponchel, 1835)
Subfamily:Coliadinae (Swainson, 1827)
Tribe:Gonepterygini ()
Genus:Gonepteryx (Leach, 1815)
Subgenus: 
Species:rhamni (Linnaeus, 1758)
Subspecies:rhamni (Linnaeus, 1758)
 gravesi (Huggins, 1956)
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  Introduction  

It is commonly believed that the word “butterfly” is a derived from “butter-coloured fly” which is attributed to the yellow of the male Brimstone butterfly, the female being a much paler whitish-green. The Brimstone has a most exquisite wing shape, perfectly matching a leaf when roosting overnight or hibernating within foliage. This is one of the few species that hibernates as an adult and, as such, spends the majority of its life as an adult butterfly. The distribution of this species closely follows that of the larval foodplant. In England, where it is represented by the subspecies rhamni, it can be found south of a line from Cheshire in the west to South-east Yorkshire in the east, although vagrants may turn up in other areas. In Ireland, where it is represented by the subspecies gravesi, its strongholds are in a small area that lies between the borders of West Galway, West Mayo and East Mayo, and a band running through central Ireland from Clare in the west to Kildare in the east.

Gonepteryx rhamni ssp. rhamni

This species was first defined in Linnaeus (1758) as shown here (type locality: Europe, Africa). The population found in England, Wales, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands is represented by the nominate subspecies.


Brimstone - male  - Shipton Bellinger 13-08-2013
Male
Photo © Wurzel
Brimstone male - Coulsdon, Surrey 12-Aug-2012
Male Underside
Photo © Vince Massimo
Clouded Yellow female, Cissbury Ring, West Sussex, 6 Aug 2013
Female
Photo © Colin Knight
Brimstone- 5D35122 Lincs Aug 2013
Female Underside
Photo © IainLeach

Gonepteryx rhamni ssp. gravesi

This subspecies was first defined in Huggins (1956b). This subspecies represents the population found in Ireland, and exhibits minor colour differences with the subspecies rhamni which, based on the formal description, are:

1. The male upperside is slightly paler.

2. The male hindwing upperside is greener.

3. The male forewing underside is greenish white in the central area, almost as in the female, rather than suffused with yellow.

4. The female forewing upperside is bordered with greenish yellow, particularly at the apex.

5. The female hindwing upperside is strongly suffused with greenish-yellow.

Gonepteryx rhamni ssp. gravesi (Huggins, 1956)

♂. Upperside fore wings as in G.rhamni rhamni but slightly paler. Hind wings lighter and greener. Underside fore wings have the middle portion below the costal area greenish white, almost as in the female. This portion is strongly suffused with yellow in English examples.

♀. Fore wings upperside bordered with greenish yellow, particularly at the apex. Hind wings whole area strongly suffused with green yellow.

Type ♂, Kildare 26.viii.16 (D.Westropp). Type ♀, King's County 1900 (D.Westropp).


Male
Brimstone - male - Boston, Clare - 10-Aug-13
Male Underside
Photo © Pete Eeles
Female
Female Underside

  Phenology  

This single-brooded butterfly can be found in most months of the year, although peak flight times are in April and May as the hibernating adults emerge, and again in August when their offspring reach adulthood. Autumn is a good time to see this species as the adults are avid nectar-feeders as they build up their fat reserves in preparation for hibernation.

Gonepteryx rhamni ssp. rhamni


Gonepteryx rhamni ssp. gravesi


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.


  Habitat  

The Brimstone is a great wanderer and can be found in almost any habitat, from chalk downland to woodland rides to gardens.

  Larval Foodplants  

The primary larval foodplants are Alder Buckthorn (Frangula alnus) and Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica).

  Nectar Sources  

Adults feed primarily on Thistles (Cirsium spp. and Carduus spp.). Betony (Stachys officinalis), Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scriptus), Bugle (Ajuga reptans), Carline Thistle (Carlina vulgaris), Cowslip (Primula veris), Dandelion (Taraxacum agg.), Devil's-bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis), Fleabane (Pulicaria dysenterica), Knapweeds (Centaurea spp.), Marjoram (Origanum vulgare), Primrose (Primula vulgaris), Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi), Red Campion (Silene dioica), Selfheal (Prunella vulgaris), Thistles (Cirsium spp. and Carduus spp.) and Vetches (Vicia spp.) are also used.

  Imago  

Newly-emerged adults spend much of their time feeding, where they always settle with their wings closed, showing a preference for purple and nectar-rich flowers such as Thistle and Devil’s-bit Scabious. The long proboscis of this species also allows the butterfly to take nectar from flowers, such as Teasel, that are beyond the reach of many other butterfly species. With the approach of autumn, the butterfly settles down to hibernate – often among leaves of Ivy, Holly or Bramble.

Adults emerging in the spring nectar on a variety of available flowers, such as Dandelion, Primrose, Cowslip, Bugle and Bluebell. They can often be seen resting with their wings at right angles to the sun to gain the full effect of the warm rays at this relatively-cool time of year.

Males are the first to be seen in the spring and can be seen patrolling woodland edges, hedgerows and other habitats looking for a mate. When a virgin female is found, male and female fly high into the air, often out of sight, before tumbling back down into a bush where they then mate. Females are quite selective about the plants on which they lay – even on sites with many Buckthorns present, only a very small proportion of these will tend to be used by females in the area.

Gonepteryx rhamni ssp. rhamni


Brimstones - Otmoor, Oxon 25-May-2011
Photo © MikeOxon
Brimstone - imago - Farley Mount Country Park - 24-Jun-06
Photo © Pete Eeles
24-Jun-2006
Brimstone -imago (male) - Totternhoe, 24th May 2009
Photo © NickB
24-May-2009
Brimstone - imago - Holywells Park, Ipswich - May-06 [Matt Berry]
Photo © Matt Berry
Brimstone Male and Female - Addington, Surrey 14-June-10
Photo © Vince Massimo
14-Jun-2010
Brimstone - imago - Stockbridge Down - 22-Jul-11 (1)
Photo © Pete Eeles
Brimstone (Male) - Bruzovice, Silesia (CZE) 25-March-12
Photo © The Annoying Czech
25-Mar-2012
DSC00064a-800 Brimstone, Liphook garden, 02/08/2008
Photo © Pauline
02-Aug-2008
Brimstone 21-4-12
Photo © ChrisC
Brimstone Female - Friston Gallops, Sussex 9-August-12
Photo © Colin Knight
09-Aug-2012
Brimstone male - Fenn's and Whixall Moss NNR 9th August 2012
Photo © A_T
Brimstone male - Steyning Downland, Sussex 12-August-12 (2)
Photo © Colin Knight
12-Aug-2012
Brimstone male - Steyning Downland, Sussex 12-August-12 (3)
Photo © Colin Knight
Brimstone male - Kithurst Hill, Sussex 1-Sept-2011
Photo © Neil Hulme
29-Aug-2011
Brimstone female - Coulsdon, Surrey 11-Aug-2012
Photo © Vince Massimo
11-Aug-2012
Brimstone male - Coulsdon, Surrey 12-Aug-2012
Photo © Vince Massimo
12-Aug-2012
Brimstone male and female - Coulsdon, Surrey 12-Aug-2012
Photo © Vince Massimo
12-Aug-2012
Brimstone (male), Chiddingfold Forest (4 May 2013)
Photo © Mark Colvin
Brimstone (female), Ashpark Wood, West Sussex (6 May 2013)
Photo © Mark Colvin
27.7.2013  male Brimstone, Surrey 040
Photo © hideandseek
27-Jul-2013
Clouded Yellow female, Cissbury Ring, West Sussex, 6 Aug 2013
Photo © Colin Knight
06-Aug-2013
Clouded Yellow male, Cissbury Ring, West Sussex, 6 Aug 2013 (3)
Photo © Colin Knight
06-Aug-2013
Brimstone - male  - Shipton Bellinger 13-08-2013
Photo © Wurzel
13-Aug-2013
Brimstone, male, Kithurst Hill, West Sussex, 20 Aug 2013
Photo © Colin Knight
20-Aug-2013
Brimstone - male - Shipton Bellinger - 13-08-2013
Photo © Wurzel
13-Aug-2013
Brimstone- 5D37559b Lincs Aug 2013
Photo © IainLeach
Brimstone- 5D36835 Lincs Aug 2013
Photo © IainLeach
Brimstone- 5D35905 Lincs Aug 2013
Photo © IainLeach
Brimstone- 5D35122 Lincs Aug 2013
Photo © IainLeach
26.8.13  female Brimstone, Chiddingfold Wood, Surrey  070-1 1
Photo © hideandseek
26-Aug-2013
26.8.13  male Brimstone, Chiddingfold Wood, Surrey  080 1
Photo © hideandseek
26-Aug-2013
26.8.13  male Brimstone, Chiddingfold Woodd, Surrey 129-2 1
Photo © hideandseek
26-Aug-2013
Brimstones, Stanstead Forest, 19/03/2014
Photo © Pauline
19-Mar-2014
Brimstones, Stanstead Forest, 19/03/2014
Photo © Pauline
19-Mar-2014
Brimstone - 31-03-2014 - Kingston Lacey
Photo © Wurzel
29-Mar-2014
Brimstone - Middle Street - 08-04-2014
Photo © Wurzel
08-Apr-2014
Brimstone (5) - Buchan Park, Crawley, Sussex, 7-May-2014
Photo © Buchan Boy
07-May-2014
Brimstone (121) - Buchan Park, Crawley, Sussex, 7-May-2014
Photo © Buchan Boy
07-May-2014
Brimstone (128) - Buchan Park, Crawley, Sussex, 7-May-2014
Photo © Buchan Boy
07-May-2014
Brimstone (152) - Buchan Park, Crawley, Sussex, 7-May-2014
Photo © Buchan Boy
07-May-2014
Brimstone (168) - Buchan Park, Crawley, Sussex, 7-May-2014
Photo © Buchan Boy
07-May-2014
Brimstone (265) - Buchan Park, Crawley, Sussex, 7-May-2014
Photo © Buchan Boy
07-May-2014
Brimstone (326) - Buchan Park, Crawley, Sussex 7-May-2014
Photo © Buchan Boy
07-May-2014
Brimstone - Bentley Wood - 13 Apr 2014
Photo © craigbirdphotos
13-Apr-2014
Brimstone - imago - Nr. Stockbridge Down - 30-Apr-14
Photo © Pete Eeles
30-Apr-2014
Brimstone - Otmoor - 06.08.14
Photo © Rosalyn
06-Aug-2014
Male Brimstone - MHD - 7th - August - 2014
Photo © Maximus
07-Aug-2014

Gonepteryx rhamni ssp. gravesi


Brimstone - imago - Lough George, Co Clare - Unknown date [Adrian Riley]
Photo © Adrian Riley
Brimstone - male - Boston, Clare - 10-Aug-13
Photo © Pete Eeles
10-Aug-2013
Brimstone - male - Boston, Clare - 10-Aug-13-2
Photo © Pete Eeles
10-Aug-2013

  Aberrations  

Description to be completed.

Click here to see a full list of aberrations for this species.

  Ovum  

The skittle-shaped eggs are laid singly on the undersides of the youngest Buckthorn leaves at all heights on the foodplant. Although several eggs may be found together, this is either the result of different females using the same leaf, or the same female revisiting the spot at a different time. Newly-laid eggs are pale green, turning yellow and eventually grey as the larva develops inside. This stage lasts between 1 and 2 weeks.


Brimstone - ovum - Bentley Wood - 24-Apr-04 (2)
Photo © Pete Eeles
Brimstone - ovum - Bentley Wood - 24-Apr-04
Photo © Pete Eeles
Brimstone - ovum - Bathampton Down - 19-Apr-07 [Chris Isles]
Photo © Chris Isles
Brimstone egg Ryton Wood Meadows Warwickshire 15th May 2010
Photo © millerd
Brimstone - ovum - Nr Stockbridge Down - 21-May-10 (1)
Photo © Pete Eeles
21-May-2010
Brimstone ovum (maturing) - Woldingham, Surrey 19-April-2011
Photo © Vince Massimo
19-Apr-2011
Alner's Gorse, Dorset  22.05.10
Photo © Tony Moore
22-May-2010
Brimstone ovum (freshly laid) - Woldingham, Surrey 10-April-2011
Photo © Vince Massimo
10-Apr-2011
Brimstone ovum (freshly laid) - Woldingham, Surrey 30-April-2012
Photo © Vince Massimo
30-Apr-2012
Brimstone egg - Magdalen Hill Down, Hampshire 15-April-2014
Photo © Neil Hulme
15-Apr-2014
Brimstone ova - freshly laid - Bentley Wood - 6th - May - 2014
Photo © Maximus
06-May-2014

  Larva  

The newly-emerged larva moves to the upperside of the leaf and starts to feed. Despite their superb camouflage, larvae can be relatively-easy to find since they nibble away the edges of the leaf on which they are resting and the feeding damage gives their presence away. When at rest, the larva has a curious habit of lifting the front half of its body off the leaf. The larva goes through 4 moults in total and this stage lasts about a month.


Brimstone - larva - Pamber Forest - 19-Jun-04
Photo © Pete Eeles
19-Jun-2004
Brimstone - larva - Pamber Forest - 25-Jun-04
Photo © Pete Eeles
25-Jun-2004
Brimstone - larva - Thatcham - 09-Jun-07 (1)
Photo © Pete Eeles
09-Jun-2007
Brimstone - larva - Thatcham - 12-Jul-04 [REARED]
Photo © Pete Eeles
12-Jul-2004
Brimstone - larva - Pamber Forest - 25-May-11 (1)
Photo © Pete Eeles
Brimstone caterpillar 29-5-12
Photo © ChrisC
29-May-2012
Brimstone Larva 4th instar(?), Miserden Glos 30/6/12
Photo © jamesweightman
30-Jun-2012
Brimstone Larva (2nd individual near previous), Miserden Glos 30/6/12
Photo © jamesweightman
30-Jun-2012
Brimstone larva (reared) - Caterham, Surrey 30-May-2012
Photo © Vince Massimo
30-May-2012
Brimstone larva (reared) - Caterham, Surrey 30-May-2012
Photo © Vince Massimo
30-May-2012
Brimstone larva (reared) - Caterham, Surrey 30-May-2012
Photo © Vince Massimo
30-May-2012
Brimstone larva (reared) - Caterham, Surrey 7-June-2012
Photo © Vince Massimo
07-Jun-2012
Brimstone larva (reared) - Caterham, Surrey 7-June-2012
Photo © Vince Massimo
07-Jun-2012
Brimstone larva (early instar) reared Caterham, Surrey 26-April-2011
Photo © Vince Massimo
26-Apr-2011
Brimstone larva (early instar) reared Caterham, Surrey 25-May-2012
Photo © Vince Massimo
25-May-2012
Brimstone larva (early instar) reared Caterham, Surrey 25-May-2012
Photo © Vince Massimo
25-May-2012

  Pupa  

The fully-grown larva usually pupates away from the foodplant and, like the adult butterfly, the pupa is a curious shape, looking like a curled leaf. It is secured to the underside of a leaf or plant stem by a silk girdle and the cremaster. Before the adult butterfly emerges, the yellow spot found in the centre of the forewing can be clearly seen through the pupal case. The pupal stage lasts about 2 weeks.


Brimstone - pupa - Thatcham - 25-Jul-04 [REARED]
Photo © Pete Eeles
25-Jul-2004
Brimstone - pupa - Thatcham - 31-Jul-04 [REARED]
Photo © Pete Eeles
31-Jul-2004
Brimstone - pupa - Pamber Forest - 01-Jun-11 (1)
Photo © Pete Eeles
Brimstone pupa (reared) - Caterham, Surrey 17-June-2012
Photo © Vince Massimo
17-Jun-2012
Brimstone pupa (4 hours before hatching) reared - Caterham, Surrey 27-June-2012
Photo © Vince Massimo
27-Jun-2012
Brimstone pupa (36 hours before hatching) reared - Caterham, Surrey 26-June-2012
Photo © Vince Massimo
26-Jun-2012
Brimstone pupa (2 days before hatching) reared - Caterham, Surrey 25-June-2012
Photo © Vince Massimo
25-Jun-2012
Brimstone pupa (4 days before hatching) reared - Caterham, Surrey 23-June-2012
Photo © Vince Massimo
23-Jun-2012
Brimstone pupa (reared) - Caterham, Surrey 17-June-2012
Photo © Vince Massimo
17-Jun-2012
Brimstone - pupa - Thatcham - 16-Jul-13 (1) [REARED]
Photo © Pete Eeles
14-Jul-2013
Brimstone - pupa - Thatcham - 16-Jul-13 (2) [REARED]
Photo © Pete Eeles
16-Jul-2013

  Similar Species  

No similar species found.

  Videos  

Video © John Chapple
Brimstone.

  Sites  

Click here to see the distribution of this species overlaid with specific site information. Alternatively, select one of the sites listed below.

Sites
Arnside Knott, Attenborough Nature Reserve, Aylesbeare Common, Badbury Rings, Banstead Downs, Banstead Woods, Barkbooth Lot, Bedfont Lakes Country Park LNR, Bingham Linear Park, Boherbawn Lower, Borthwood, Bovey Valley Woodlands, Bryncelyn Hall, Craigavon Lakes, Danes Moss, Darley, Denbies Hillside, Devil's Ditch, Dromore Wood, Durlston NNR, Fermyn Wood, Fleam Dyke, Gait Barrows, Higher Hyde, Horsenden Hill, Hounslow Heath LNR, Hurney's Point, Hutchinsons Bank, Hutton Roof Crags, Hyde, Latterbarrow, Latton Woods, Lavernock, Leighton Moss, Lough George, Lullymore, Malling Down, Mansmead wood, Mayford Pond, Midgham Lakes, Mill Hill, Monk Wood, Moors Valley Country Park, Moss Field, Mount Caburn, Mullagh More, Oaken Wood, Old Down, Basingstoke, Pamber Forest, Rookery, Roudsea Wood NNR, Ryton Woods Meadows, Stockbridge Down, Tophill Low, Viking Field/LesleySears, Warton Crag, Whitbarrow Scar, Whixall Moss, Willesley Wood, Winsdon Hill

  Conservation Status  

The status of the Brimstone is considered stable and it is not, therefore, considered a species of conservation concern.

UK BAP StatusDistribution Trend (%)Population Trend (%)
Not Listed
Stable-1
Stable0

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).


  Links  

The following links provide additional information on this butterfly.

  References  

The species description provided here references the following publications:

ReferenceDetails
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.
Huggins (1956b) Huggins, H.C. (1956) The Irish race of Gonepteryx rhamni (Lep. Pieridae). The Entomologist.
Leach (1815) Leach (1815) In Brewster: The Edinburgh Encyclopaedia.
Linnaeus (1758) Linnaeus, C. (1758) Systema Naturae. Edition 10.
Swainson (1827) Swainson, W. (1827) A Sketch of the Natural Affinities of the Lepidoptera Diurna of Latreille. The Philosophical magazine : or Annals of chemistry, mathematics, astronomy, natural history and general science.

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