Wood White

Leptidea sinapis (lep-TID-ee-uh sy-NAY-piss)

Wood-White-Wicken Wood 8 May 2011 03C6683
Photo © IainLeach
 

Wingspan
42mm

Checklist Number
58.001

Family:PieridaeSwainson, 1820
Subfamily:DismorphiinaeSchatz, 1887
Tribe:LeptideiniVerity, 1947
Genus:LeptideaBillberg, 1820
Subgenus:  
Species:sinapis(Linnaeus, 1758)

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Introduction

The Wood White is one of our daintiest butterflies with one of the slowest and delicate flights of all the British butterflies. When at rest, the rounded tips of the forewings provide one of the main distinguishing features between this butterfly and other "whites". Adults always rest with their wings closed. In flight, the male can be distinguished from the female by a black spot at the tip of the forewings that is greatly reduced in the female. This butterfly lives discrete colonies and was only recently separated from the visibly-identical Cryptic Wood White. This local species can be found in central and southern England and also in Ireland on the limestone pavements of Clare and South-east Galway. This species is absent from Scotland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

Taxonomy Notes

Aside from the confusion that has historically surrounded the identification of L. sinapis, L. reali and L. juvernica, several other taxonomic names have been applied to L. sinapis.

  • Hübner (1823) uses f. lathyri to describe the spring generation. f. sinapis, the nominate form, is then used to describe the summer generation.
  • Verity (1916) uses f. transiens to describe the British population and mentions the distinguishing features: "The British race is quite similar in both generations to the nymo-typical one; it is a little smaller than the one from the South of Europe; a careful comparison also shows that the dark bands on the underside of the hindwings in the summer broods are more diffused than in Italian specimens, thus differing a little less from the spring brood than in the latter region; form transiens, mihi; "types" from the New Forest in July".

Leptidea sinapis

This species was first defined in Linnaeus (1758) as shown here (type locality: Sweden).

Males of the summer brood have darker wing spots than those of the spring brood, whose spots are greyer in colour. Females of the summer brood are slightly smaller than those of the spring brood.

Spring Brood

Wood White - male disturbing mating pair - Botany Bay, 8 May 2012

Male
Photo © Colin Knight

Wood-White-Wicken Wood 14 June 2010 03C3328

Male Underside
Photo © IainLeach

Wood White Female (in flight) - Botany Bay, Sussex 25-June-12 (013-3)

Female
Photo © P.J.Underwood

Wood White female - Botany Bay, Chiddingfold, Surrey 24-May-2016

Female Underside
Photo © Vince Massimo

Photo Album ...


Summer Brood

Wood White (summer brood) male  Botany Bay Chiddingfold Surrey 31st July 2016

Male
Photo © millerd

Wood White male (Second Brood) - Botany Bay, Chiddingfold, Surrey 21-July-05

Male Underside
Photo © Vince Massimo

Wood White - second brood female. Botany Bay, Chiddingfold, Surrey.

Female
Photo © nomad

Wood White - imago - Botany Bay - 16-Jul-09 (8)

Female Underside
Photo © Pete Eeles

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
1710Small WhiteRay (1710)
1717Small White Wood Butterfly (male)Petiver (1717)
1717White Small Tipped Butterfly (female)Petiver (1717)
1766Wood WhiteHarris (1766)
1799Wood LadyDonovan (1799)
1852White WoodWood (1852)

Conservation Status

Despite relatively short-term increases, the long-term view is that this butterfly is in decline and is therefore a priority species for conservation efforts. This butterfly has suffered due to a change in woodland management and, in particular, the reduction in coppicing that allows new woodland clearings to develop that provides the conditions suitable for this species. Even improvements in habitat management will not guarantee that the species will reappear from areas where it has been lost, since it is not a very mobile species and may not, therefore, be able to recolonise naturally.

UK BAP StatusOccurrence Change
1976-2014 (%)
Abundance Change
1976-2014 (%)
Occurrence Change
2005-2014 (%)
Abundance Change
2005-2014 (%)
Priority Species
Click here to access the Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) for this species.
Large Decrease-89
Large Decrease-88
Decrease-25
Decrease-18

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

As its name implies, this species is found in woodland rides and margins. However, colonies in the south west of its range can be found in more-open areas such as disused railway cuttings and meadows. Suitable habitat is characterised as being warm, sheltered and damp, where both larval foodplants and nectar sources are in abundance. Foodplants include various vetches and trefoils. Nectar sources include a variety of flowers, favourites being Bramble, Bugle, Ragged Robin and Birds-foot Trefoil. In hot weather, males can also be found taking mineral salts from puddles.

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

The English colonies emerge in early May and fly until the end of June. In Ireland, the emergence starts a little later in late May and the adults fly until the middle of July. Some sites, especially those in Surrey and Sussex, typically experience a 2nd brood and this can be more substantial than the 1st brood in good years.

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

Males are the more active of the two sexes and can be found patrolling for females, rarely stopping to rest or feed, especially in sunny weather. On dull days, the butterfly will rest on the underside of a leaf with its wings closed and, when disturbed, the butterfly will fly into thick undergrowth.

The courtship of this butterfly is an amazing spectacle. Male and female face each other with wings closed and intermittently flash open their wings. At the same time, the male waves his proboscis and white-tipped antennae either side of the female's head. If the female is receptive to these signals, the female bends her abdomen toward the male and the pair mate, staying coupled for around 30 minutes.

Adults feed primarily on Bird's-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus). Bramble (Rubus fruticosus), Bugle (Ajuga reptans), Buttercups (Ranunculus spp.), Greater Stitchwort (Stellaria holostea), Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi), Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) and Vetches (Vicia spp.) are also used.

Leptidea sinapis

Spring Brood

Wood White (mating pair) Botany Bay Surrey 10th May 2010

Photo © millerd

Wood White - imago - Botany Bay - 14-May-10 (9)

Photo © Pete Eeles
14-May-2010

Wood Whites (Tongue-lashing courtship dance)  Nr. Bletchley, BUCKS

Photo © Trev Sawyer

Wood White - Salcey Forest, Northants. 24-June-2015 [Peter Willmott]

Photo © Peter Willmott

Wood White - Botany Bay, Chiddingfold, Surrey 22-May-2016

Photo © Susie

Wood White - imago - Botany Bay - 14-May-10 (5)

Photo © Pete Eeles
14-May-2010

Wood White [Nick Sampford]

Photo © Nick Sampford
03-Jun-2002

Wood White - male - Thatcham - 03-May-14 [REARED]-6

Photo © Pete Eeles
03-May-2014

Wood White - male - Thatcham - 28-Apr-14 [REARED]-4

Photo © Pete Eeles
28-Apr-2014

Wood White female - Botany Bay, Chiddingfold, Surrey 24-May-2016

Photo © Vince Massimo
24-May-2016

Female Wood White egg-laying, Chiddingfold, 11/05/2017

Photo © Pauline
11-May-2017

Wood-White-Wicken Wood 14 June 2010 03C3328

Photo © IainLeach

Wood-White-Wicken Wood 8 May 2011 03C7067

Photo © IainLeach

Wood-White- 5D33447. Northants, May 2015.

Photo © IainLeach

Wood-White- 5D33674. Northants, May 2015.

Photo © IainLeach

P1030172-800 Wood White, Botany Bay, 11/05/2012

Photo © Pauline
11-May-2012

Wood White - male - Thatcham - 28-Apr-14 [REARED]-3

Photo © Pete Eeles
28-Apr-2014

Wood-White-Wicken Wood 14 June 2010 03C3462

Photo © IainLeach

Wood White (m) Botany Bay Surrey 10th May 2010

Photo © millerd

Wood-White-Wicken Wood 8 May 2011 03C6683

Photo © IainLeach

Photo Album (43 photos) ...


Summer Brood

Wood White Female - Second Brood, Botany Bay/Oaken Wood, Sussex 16-July-09

Photo © Vince Massimo
16-Jul-2009

Wood White male (Second Brood) - Botany Bay, Chiddingfold, Surrey 21-July-05

Photo © Vince Massimo
21-Jul-2005

Wood White - imago - Botany Bay - 16-Jul-09 (3)

Photo © Pete Eeles
16-Jul-2009

Wood White - imago - Botany Bay - 16-Jul-09 (4)

Photo © Pete Eeles
16-Jul-2009

Wood White - imago - Botany Bay - 16-Jul-09 (6)

Photo © Pete Eeles
16-Jul-2009

Wood White - imago - Botany Bay - 16-Jul-09 (7)

Photo © Pete Eeles
16-Jul-2009

Wood White - imago - Botany Bay - 16-Jul-09 (8)

Photo © Pete Eeles
16-Jul-2009

Wood White - imago - Thatcham - 22-Aug-09 (1) {REARED}

Photo © Pete Eeles
22-Aug-2009

Wood White - imago - Thatcham - 22-Aug-09 (2) {REARED}

Photo © Pete Eeles
22-Aug-2009

Wood White, Botany Bay, 24 July 2008

Photo © Neil Hulme
24-Jul-2008

courting 2nd brood Wood whites (Oaken Wood) 14-Aug-2011

Photo © robsol1982
14-Aug-2011

Wood White (female), Oaken Wood, Surrey (11 July 2011)

Photo © Mark Colvin
11-Jul-2011

P1000349d-800, Wood White, Botany Bay, 10/07/2011

Photo © Pauline
10-Jul-2011

P1000403a 1-800, Wood White, Botany Bay, 10/07/2011

Photo © Pauline
10-Jul-2011

Wood White - second brood female. Botany Bay, Chiddingfold, Surrey.

Photo © nomad

Wood White - Botany Bay, Sussex 22-July-2014

Photo © Neil Hulme
22-Jul-2014

Wood White -  Botany Bay, Sussex 22-July-2014

Photo © Neil Hulme
22-Jul-2014

Wood White - 2nd brood - Botany Bay - 29-07-2015

Photo © Wurzel

Wood White - 2nd Brood - Botany Bay - 29-07-2015

Photo © Wurzel
29-Jul-2015

Wood White (summer brood) male  Botany Bay Chiddingfold Surrey 31st July 2016

Photo © millerd
31-Jul-2016

Photo Album (20 photos) ...


Ovum

The yellowish-white and skittle-shaped eggs are laid singly on the underside of a leaf, on sheltered plants. They hatch after about 2 weeks.

"The eggs are laid singly and mostly on the under surface of the leaves of the tuberous pea (Orobus tuberosus) [synonym of Lathyrus linifolius, Bitter Vetch]. Eggs laid June 6th, 1900, hatched June 17th, remaining eleven days in the egg state. The egg as laid stands erect; it measures 1.3 mm. high and is of an elongated conical form, widest about the middle and attenuated at each end, but mostly so at the summit, which terminates in a point; the base is rounded and firmly attached to the leaf by a short pedestal of glutinous substance. The egg is not symmetrical in shape, as it curves slightly to one side, so that in a certain view it forms a figure with one side convex and the other almost straight. It has eleven longitudinal keels; generally nine of these run the entire length, while the remaining two start a little below the summit; the spaces between the keels are delicately and finely ribbed transversely, each space having about forty-two ribs. The colour of the egg is a clear pale lemon-yellow and remains unchanged until just before hatching, when it becomes tinged with ochreous." - Frohawk (1924)

Wood White - ovum - Botany Bay - 22-May-05

Photo © Pete Eeles
22-May-2005

Bury Ditches  26.05.09

Photo © Tony Moore
26-May-2009

Wood White (eggs) - Botany Bay, Surrey 3-July-2010

Photo © millerd

Wood White - ovum - Botany Bay - 27-Apr-11 (1)

Photo © Pete Eeles

Wood White - ovum - Botany Bay - 27-Apr-11 (2)

Photo © Pete Eeles

Wood White (ovum) Botany Bay Surrey 27th May 2013

Photo © millerd
27-May-2013

Wood White - ovum - Chiddingfold - 15-Aug-13

Photo © Pete Eeles
16-Aug-2013

Wood White - ovum - Chiddingfold - 15-Aug-13-5

Photo © Pete Eeles
16-Aug-2013

Wood White - ovum - Chiddingfold - 15-Aug-13-6

Photo © Pete Eeles
16-Aug-2013

Wood White - ovum - Chiddingfold - 15-Aug-13-7

Photo © Pete Eeles
16-Aug-2013

Wood White - ovum - Chiddingfold - 15-Aug-13-8

Photo © Pete Eeles
16-Aug-2013

Wood White ovum, Chiddingfold, 11/05/2017

Photo © Pauline
11-May-2017

Photo Album (12 photos) ...


Larva

The superbly-camouflaged larva feeds by first eating the tips of the finest shoots, before working its way down the plant. There are 5 instars in total.

The primary larval foodplants are Bird's-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), Bitter Vetch (Lathyrus linifolius), Greater Bird's-foot Trefoil (Lotus pedunculatus), Meadow Vetchling (Lathyrus pratensis) and Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca).

Wood White - larva - Unknown location - 2004 (2) [REARED] [Reg Fry]

Photo © Reg Fry

Wood White - larva - Unknown location - 2004 (3) [REARED] [Reg Fry]

Photo © Reg Fry

Wood White - larva - Thatcham - 29-Aug-13 (1) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
29-Aug-2013

Photo Album (3 photos) ...


1st Instar

"The young larva eats its way out of the side of the egg and shortly after emerging it consumes part of the empty shell. Directly after emergence the larva measures 1.5 mm. long; it is uniformly cylindrical, with a large globular head. The entire colouring is a pale primrose-yellow. Each segment has six sub-divisions; there are six longitudinal rows of curiously formed glassy-like processes (T of this formation), three rows on each side; those of the sub-dorsal pair are the largest, the anterior one is placed slightly higher up than the posterior one, a single one is central above the spiracle, and two others, very small, are placed on the lateral ridge just a trifle lower than the spiracle; on each clasper are two simple spines directed downwards. In addition to the T processes, the first and last segments bear long hairs, curving forwards on the former and backwards on the latter, the head also emits a number of hairs of various lengths curving forwards; the eye spots are black and mouth parts red, the head is the same colour as the body. It rests in a straight attitude and feeds along the edge of the leaf." - Frohawk (1924)

Wood White - larva - Unknown location - 2004 [REARED] [Reg Fry]

Photo © Reg Fry

Photo Album (1 photos) ...


2nd Instar

"After the first moult the larva is 3.5 mm. long, and of a light greenish-yellow colour; it has a pale lateral line and a darker green sub-dorsal line. The T processes are reduced in size and resemble the letter Y; there are sub-dorsal and super-spiracular rows of simple spines with dark bases, each bearing a tiny bead of white fluid. The head is coloured like the body. It rests and feeds on the edge of the leaf." - Frohawk (1924)

3rd Instar

"After the second moult the larva measures 6.3 mm. long; otherwise it is similar to the previous stage." - Frohawk (1924)

4th Instar

"After third moult and shortly before the fourth it is 12.8 mm. long, and is similar in colour and all structural detail to the previous stage." - Frohawk (1924)

5th Instar

"After fourth and last moult, fully grown, it measures 19 mm. long. It is almost cylindrical and somewhat slender in form, gradually tapering at the posterior end, the last segment terminates in a flap overlapping the anal claspers and is almost squarely ended. Each segment has six sub-divisions. The colour is a bright clear green, with a darker green medio-dorsal line running the entire length, and a spiracular yellow stripe bordered above by a darker green stripe which blends into the ground colour above, but is sharply defined below, which throws up the yellow in strong contrast; the small white spiracles are placed exactly between the two stripes. The surface is finely granular and sprinkled with curious pillar-like processes, which are modifications of those in the first stage; these little pillars have bifurcating, club-shaped tops and conical bases; they gradually become elongated and club-like along the ventral surface, while the claspers have simple short spines; there are also along the dorsal surface two simple spines, longer than the pillars, placed sub-dorsally on each segment; these have a tiny bead of fluid adhering to the finely pointed tips, resembling minute glassy white pins; all the processes are white and glass-like. Those on the anterior segments have more or less dark bases and are more simple in structure. The head is green and bilobed, with dark eye and mouth spots. Besides the tuberous pea, the larvae feed readily on both the sweet and everlasting pea. They always rest in a straight position. The first larva spun up for pupation on July 17th, and pupated the following day, the larval stage lasting thirty days." - Frohawk (1924)

Wood White - larva - Thatcham - 06-Aug-09 (1) {REARED}

Photo © Pete Eeles
06-Aug-2009

Wood White - larva - Unknown location - 2004 (4) [REARED] [Reg Fry]

Photo © Reg Fry

Wood White - larva - Thatcham - 04-Oct-13 (1) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
04-Oct-2013

Wood White - larva - Thatcham - 20-Sep-13 (1) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
20-Sep-2013

Wood White - larva - Thatcham - 20-Sep-13 (2) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
20-Sep-2013

Wood White - larva - Thatcham - 20-Sep-13 (3) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
20-Sep-2013

Wood White - larva - Thatcham - 20-Sep-13 (4) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
20-Sep-2013

Wood White - larva - Thatcham - 20-Sep-13 (5) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
20-Sep-2013

Photo Album (8 photos) ...


Pupa

The pupa is primarily green, although the wing edges and veins are a beautiful pink. It is attached to the stem by a silken girdle and the cremaster. Those pupae that do not give rise to a new generation in the same year overwinter.

"The pupa measures 16 mm. long; in form it is intermediate between Euchloe cardamines [Anthocharis cardamines, Orange-tip] and Colias edusa [Colias croceus, Clouded Yellow], but also bears a close resemblance to a miniature Gonopteryx rhamni [Brimstone], but is much more slender. The head terminates in a rather long, pointed and slightly upturned beak; the thorax is swollen, sunken at the meta-thorax and swollen at the basal abdominal segments, and slightly sunken again at the middle segments; it then takes a gentle curve to the anal segment, which is flattened at the extremity and bears the cremastral hooks, which are firmly attached to a pad of silk spun on the stem of the plant supporting the pupa. The costal margin of the wing is much arched in the middle; the wing surface is flat and the inner margin forms a ridge; the antennae run along the costal margin, forming a keel. At first the colour is a clear light green, the abdomen yellow-green, the beak and antennae gradually turn to a delicate lilac-pink; a lilac stripe runs along the inner wing margin, which blends into the whitish spiracular line, bordered above by a slightly darker green than the ground colour; the medio-dorsal line is also dark green which is bordered on either side by a whitish line, and a very fine line, almost black, runs down the centre of the head and thorax; the neuration is very faintly outlined with darkish streaks. Such is the description when three days old. When the pupa is seven days old the pink on the beak and antennae becomes faded and the wings assume a lemon-yellow, the eyes grey, the thorax and abdomen paler green. The general colouring and shape much resemble a withered and partly eaten leaf of the food plant. The spiracles are white, the lilac-pink markings vary considerably in different individuals; in some, they extend in a continuous line from the beak, along the inner margin of the wing and the spiracular line to the anal segment. The antennae and neuration are also outlined with the same colour. Those boldly marked with pink have generally a paler green ground colour. Shortly before emergence the whole colouring of the imago is distinctly visible through the delicate pupal skin. The first specimen, a male, emerged on July 26th, the pupal stage occupying eight days. The above description applies to the pupae producing the second brood. The pupa is attached by the cremastral hooks to a pad of silk and by a silken cincture round the body. As there is usually but one brood in the season in the British Isles, the normal period of the pupal existence is about ten months, as the Wood White hibernates in the pupal state." - Frohawk (1924)

Wood White - pupa - Thatcham - 07-Aug-09 (1) {REARED}

Photo © Pete Eeles
07-Aug-2009

Wood White - pupa - Unknown location - 2004 [REARED] [Reg Fry]

Photo © Reg Fry

Wood White - pupa - Thatcham - 04-Oct-13 (1) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
04-Oct-2013

Wood White - pupa - Thatcham - 01-Mar-14 {REARED}

Photo © Pete Eeles
01-Mar-2014

Wood White - pupa - Thatcham - 02-May-14 [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
02-May-2014

Wood White - pupa - Thatcham - 03-May-14 [REARED]-14

Photo © Pete Eeles
03-May-2014

Wood White - pupa - Thatcham - 17-Apr-14 [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
17-Apr-2014

Wood White - pupa - Thatcham - 25-Apr-14 [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
25-Apr-2014

Wood White - pupa - Thatcham - 30-Apr-14 [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
30-Apr-2014

Photo Album (9 photos) ...


Aberrations

Description to be completed.

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

Similar Species

Cryptic Wood White

The Cryptic Wood White and Wood White can only be differentiated by a detailed examination of their genitalia.

Videos


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The following links provide additional information on this butterfly.

References

The species description provided here references the following publications:

ReferenceDetails
Billberg (1820) Billberg, G.J. (1820) Enumeratio insectorum in Museo.
Donovan (1799) Donovan, E. (1799) The Natural History of British Insects (Vol.8).
Frohawk (1924) Frohawk, F.W. (1924) The Natural History of British Butterflies.
Hübner (1823) Hübner, J. (1823) Sammlung europäischer Schmetterlinge.
Harris (1766) Harris, M. (1766) The Aurelian. Edition 1.
Linnaeus (1758) Linnaeus, C. (1758) Systema Naturae. Edition 10.
Petiver (1717) Petiver, J. (1717) Papilionum Britanniae Icones.
Ray (1710) Ray, J. (1710) Historia Insectorum.
Schatz (1887) Schatz, E. (1887) Die Familien und Gattungen der Tagfalter systematisch und analytisch bearbeitet.
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).
Verity (1916) Verity, R. (1916) The British Races of Butterflies: their relationships and nomenclature. Entomologist's Record and Journal of Variation.
Verity (1947) Verity, R. (1947) Le Farfalle diurne d'Italia.
Wood (1852) Wood, W. (1852) Index Entomologicus; or, A Complete Illustrated Catalogue, Consisting of 1944 Figures, of the Lepidopterous Insects of Great Britain. Edition 2.