Brimstone

Gonepteryx rhamni (go-NEP-tuh-ricks RAM-ny)

Brimstone male - Coulsdon, Surrey 12-Aug-2012
Photo © Vince Massimo
 

Wingspan
60 - 74mm

Checklist Number
58.013

Family:PieridaeSwainson, 1820
Subfamily:ColiadinaeSwainson, 1820
Tribe:Gonepterygini
Genus:Gonepteryx[Leach], [1815]
Subgenus:  
Species:rhamni(Linnaeus, 1758)
Subspecies:rhamni (Linnaeus, 1758)
 gravesi Huggins, 1956

< Previous SpeciesNext Species >

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, Kithurst Hill, West Sussex, 20 Aug 2013

Male
Photo © Colin Knight

Brimstone -  Knepp Estate, Sussex 31-July-2016

Male Underside
Photo © Neil Hulme

Clouded Yellow female, Cissbury Ring, West Sussex, 6 Aug 2013

Female
Photo © Colin Knight

Brimstone- 5D35122 Lincs Aug 2013

Female Underside
Photo © IainLeach

Photo Album ...


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

Photo Album ...


History

The table below shows a chronology of vernacular names attributed to this species. Any qualification of the name (e.g. male, female) is shown in brackets after the name.

YearNameReference
1695Pale Brimstone (male)Petiver (1695-1703)
1695Brimstone (female)Petiver (1695-1703)
1710Male Straw Butterfly (female)Ray (1710)
1824BrimstoneJermyn (1824)
1832PrimroseRennie (1832)
1924SulphurFrohawk (1924)

Conservation Status

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

UK BAP StatusOccurrence Change
1976-2014 (%)
Abundance Change
1976-2014 (%)
Occurrence Change
2005-2014 (%)
Abundance Change
2005-2014 (%)
Not Listed
Increase+20
Stable+1
Increase+14
Stable-1

The table above shows the occurrence (distribution) and abundance (population) trends, using information from The State of the UK's Butterflies 2015 (Fox, 2015). Any UK BAP status is taken from the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP) (2007 review).

Habitat

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

Distribution

 

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

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.

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.

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.

Gonepteryx rhamni ssp. rhamni

Brimstone female - Coulsdon, Surrey 11-Aug-2012

Photo © Vince Massimo
11-Aug-2012

Brimstone - Middle Street - 08-04-2014

Photo © Wurzel
08-Apr-2014

Clouded Yellow female, Cissbury Ring, West Sussex, 6 Aug 2013

Photo © Colin Knight
06-Aug-2013

Brimstone - imago - Stockbridge Down - 12-Jul-09 (1)

Photo © Pete Eeles
12-Jul-2009

Brimstone (152) - Buchan Park, Crawley, Sussex, 7-May-2014

Photo © Buchan Boy
07-May-2014

Brimstone - imago - Nr. Stockbridge Down - 30-Apr-14-2

Photo © Pete Eeles
30-Apr-2014

Brimstone Female - Addington, Surrey 14-June-10

Photo © Vince Massimo
14-Jun-2010

Brimstone male and female - Coulsdon, Surrey 12-Aug-2012

Photo © Vince Massimo
12-Aug-2012

Male Brimstone - MHD - 7th - August - 2014

Photo © Maximus
07-Aug-2014

Brimstone male - Kithurst Hill, Sussex 1-Sept-2011

Photo © Neil Hulme
29-Aug-2011

Brimstone (male), Chiddingfold Forest (4 May 2013)

Photo © Mark Colvin

Brimstone male - Coulsdon, Surrey 12-Aug-2012

Photo © Vince Massimo
12-Aug-2012

Brimstone female - Coulsdon, Surrey 11-Aug-2012

Photo © Vince Massimo
11-Aug-2012

Brimstone - imago - Nr. Stockbridge Down - 30-Apr-14

Photo © Pete Eeles
30-Apr-2014

Brimstone male - Steyning Downland, Sussex 12-August-12 (3)

Photo © Colin Knight

Brimstone (128) - Buchan Park, Crawley, Sussex, 7-May-2014

Photo © Buchan Boy
07-May-2014

Brimstone Female, Crawley, Sussex 18-April-06

Photo © Vince Massimo
18-Apr-2006

Brimstone (5) - 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 - imago - Stockbridge Down - 16-Jul-08 (1)

Photo © Pete Eeles
16-Jul-2008

Photo Album ...


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

Photo Album ...


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

Brimstone ovum - Blanes Botanical Garden, Catalonia, Spain. 30.03.15

Photo © Tony Moore
02-Apr-2015

Brimstone ova (freshly laid) - Crawley, Sussex 24-April-2015

Photo © Vince Massimo
24-Apr-2015

Brimstone - ovum - Pamber Forest - 04-May-16-2

Photo © Pete Eeles
04-May-2016

Brimstone - ovum - Pamber Forest - 04-May-16

Photo © Pete Eeles
04-May-2016

Brimstone - ovum - Pamber Forest - 05-May-16

Photo © Pete Eeles
05-May-2016

Brimstone - ovum - Pamber Forest - 07-May-16

Photo © Pete Eeles
07-May-2016

Photo Album ...


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.

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

Brimstone larva (reared) - Caterham, Surrey 7-June-2012

Photo © Vince Massimo
07-Jun-2012

Brimstone - larva - Pamber Forest - 25-Jun-04

Photo © Pete Eeles
25-Jun-2004

Brimstone larvae (at rest) - Crawley, Sussex 12-May-2015

Photo © Vince Massimo
12-May-2015

Brimstone larva (reared) - Caterham, Surrey 30-May-2012

Photo © Vince Massimo
30-May-2012

Brimstone Larva (2nd individual near previous), Miserden Glos 30/6/12

Photo © jamesweightman
30-Jun-2012

Brimstone Larva, Noar Hill, 19 May 2015

Photo © Pauline
19-May-2015

Brimstone - larva - Pamber Forest - 25-May-11 (1)

Photo © Pete Eeles

Brimstone larva - Crawley, Sussex 3-June-2015

Photo © Vince Massimo
03-Jun-2015

Brimstone larva, Noar Hill, 03/06/2015

Photo © Pauline
03-Jun-2015

Brimstone larvs, Noar Hill, 13/06/2015

Photo © Pauline
13-Jun-2015

Brimstone larvae (3rd instar) - Crawley, Sussex 3-June-2015

Photo © Vince Massimo
03-Jun-2015

Brimstone - larva - Thatcham - 12-Jul-04 [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
12-Jul-2004

Brimstone larva (1 day old) - Crawley, Sussex 12-May-2015

Photo © Vince Massimo
12-May-2015

Brimstone larva (early instar) reared Caterham, Surrey 26-April-2011

Photo © Vince Massimo
26-Apr-2011

Brimstone larva (preparing to pupate) - Crawley, Sussex 15-June-2015

Photo © Vince Massimo
15-Jun-2015

Brimstone larva (post moult) - Crawley, Sussex 6-June-2015

Photo © Vince Massimo
06-Jun-2015

Brimstone larva (reared) - Caterham, Surrey 7-June-2012

Photo © Vince Massimo
07-Jun-2012

Brimstone larva, Noar Hill, 03/06/2015

Photo © Pauline
03-Jun-2015

Brimstone Larva 4th instar(?), Miserden Glos 30/6/12

Photo © jamesweightman
30-Jun-2012

Brimstone - larva - Pamber Forest - 19-Jun-04

Photo © Pete Eeles
19-Jun-2004

Photo Album ...


1st Instar

Description to be completed.

2nd Instar

Description to be completed.

3rd Instar

Description to be completed.

4th Instar

Description to be completed.

5th Instar

Description to be completed.

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 emerging - Crawley, Sussex 27-June-2015

Photo © Vince Massimo
27-Jun-2015

Brimstone emerging - Crawley, Sussex 27-June-2015

Photo © Vince Massimo
27-Jun-2015

Brimstone pupa (3 hours before emergence) - Crawley, Sussex 27-June-2015

Photo © Vince Massimo
27-Jun-2015

Brimstone pupa (2 days before hatching) reared - Caterham, Surrey 25-June-2012

Photo © Vince Massimo
25-Jun-2012

Brimstone pupa - Crawley, Sussex 24-June-2015

Photo © Vince Massimo
24-Jun-2015

Brimstone pupa (parasitised) - Crawley, Sussex 8-July-2015

Photo © Vince Massimo
08-Jul-2015

Brimstone pupa (parasitised) - Crawley, Sussex 6-July-2015

Photo © Vince Massimo
06-Jul-2015

Brimstone pupa (reared) - Caterham, Surrey 17-June-2012

Photo © Vince Massimo
17-Jun-2012

Brimstone - pupa - Thatcham - 31-Jul-04 [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
31-Jul-2004

Brimstone pupa (9 days old) - Crawley, Sussex 24-June-2015

Photo © Vince Massimo
24-Jun-2015

Brimstone - pupa - Pamber Forest - 01-Jun-11 (1)

Photo © Pete Eeles

Brimstone emerging - Crawley, Sussex 27-June-2015

Photo © Vince Massimo
27-Jun-2015

Brimstone emerging - Crawley, Sussex 27-June-2015

Photo © Vince Massimo
27-Jun-2015

Brimstone emerging - Crawley, Sussex 27-June-2015

Photo © Vince Massimo
27-Jun-2015

Brimstone pupa (15 hours before emergence) - Crawley, Sussex 26-June-2015

Photo © Vince Massimo
26-Jun-2015

Brimstone pupa (15 minutes before emergence) - Crawley, Sussex 27-June-2015

Photo © Vince Massimo
27-Jun-2015

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

Brimstone pupa (freshly emerged) - Crawley, Sussex 16-June-2015

Photo © Vince Massimo
16-Jun-2015

Brimstone pupa (reared) - Caterham, Surrey 17-June-2012

Photo © Vince Massimo
17-Jun-2012

Photo Album ...


Aberrations

Description to be completed.

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

Similar Species

No similar species found.

Videos


Watch Video

The following links provide additional information on this butterfly.

References

The species description provided here references the following publications:

ReferenceDetails
Frohawk (1924) Frohawk, F.W. (1924) The Natural History of British Butterflies.
Huggins (1956b) Huggins, H.C. (1956) The Irish race of Gonepteryx rhamni (Lep. Pieridae). The Entomologist.
Jermyn (1824) Jermyn, L. (1824) The Butterfly Collector's Vade Mecum: or a Synoptical Table of English Butterflies.
Leach (1815) Leach (1815) In Brewster: The Edinburgh Encyclopaedia.
Linnaeus (1758) Linnaeus, C. (1758) Systema Naturae. Edition 10.
Petiver (1695-1703) Petiver, J. (1695-1703) Musei Petiveriani centuria prima-decima, rariora naturae continens.
Ray (1710) Ray, J. (1710) Historia Insectorum.
Rennie (1832) Rennie, J. (1832) A conspectus of the butterflies and moths found in Britain, with their English and systematic names, times of appearances, sizes, colours, their caterpillars, and various localities.
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).