Wood White

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

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


Checklist Number

Family:Pieridae (Duponchel, 1835)
Subfamily:Dismorphiinae (Staudinger & Schatz, 1892)
Tribe:Leptideini (Verity, 1947)
Genus:Leptidea (Billberg, 1820)
Species:sinapis (Linnaeus, 1758)

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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

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)

Photo © P.J.Underwood

Wood-White-Wicken Wood 14 June 2010 03C3462

Female Underside
Photo © IainLeach

Photo Album ...

Summer Brood

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

Photo © robsol1982

Wood White Male - Second Brood, Botany Bay/Oaken Wood, Sussex 21-July-05

Male Underside
Photo © Vince Massimo

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

Photo © nomad

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

Female Underside
Photo © Pete Eeles

Photo Album ...

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 StatusDistribution Trend (%)Population Trend (%)
Priority Species
Click here to access the Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) for this species.

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).


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.



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

Ballyvaughan, Betty Daw's Wood, Branscombe, Branscombe Cliffs, Bury Ditches, Chambers Farm Wood, Coldwell Copse, Common Hill, Coombe Heath, Dunscombe Cliffs, Dunsdon NNR, Foxholes, Haldon Butterfly Walk, Haldon Woods, Haugh Wood, Howe Park Wood, Kingcombe Stones, Lea and Pagets Wood, Little Linford Wood, Lough Bunny, Lyme Regis Undercliff, Marks Hall Estate, Monk Wood, Mount Fancy Reserve, Nupend Wood, Oaken Wood, Pentaloe Glen, Powerstock Common, Quoditch Moor Nature Reserve, Salcey Forest, Stonebarrow Hill, Woodside

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.


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.

Photo Album ...


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.

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

Photo © Pete Eeles

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

Photo © Pete Eeles

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

Photo © Pete Eeles

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

Photo © Pete Eeles

Photo Album ...


The superbly-camouflaged larva feeds by first eating the tips of the finest shoots, before working its way down the plant. There are 4 moults 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 - Thatcham - 06-Aug-09 (1) {REARED}

Photo © Pete Eeles

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

Photo © Reg Fry

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

Photo © Pete Eeles

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

Photo © Pete Eeles

Photo Album ...


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.

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

Photo © Pete Eeles

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

Photo © Reg Fry

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

Photo © Pete Eeles

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

Photo © Pete Eeles

Photo Album ...


Description to be completed.

This section shows those aberrations for which there is a corresponding image. Click here to see the descriptions of other aberrations 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.


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The following links provide additional information on this butterfly.


The species description provided here references the following publications:

Billberg (1820) Billberg, G.J. (1820) Enumeratio insectorum in Museo.
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.
Hübner (1823) Hübner, J. (1823) Sammlung europäischer Schmetterlinge.
Linnaeus (1758) Linnaeus, C. (1758) Systema Naturae. Edition 10.
Staudinger & Schatz (1892) Staudinger, O. and Schatz, E. (1892) Exotische schmetterlinge.
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.