Warmer temperatures this Spring have meant that the butterfly flight times have been much earlier this year than previous years. One of the first sure signs that spring has arrived is when the Orange tip butterflies Anthocharis cardamines start to emerge from their chrysalis.
Lifecycle of an Orange Tip Butterfly
This year despite our very harsh winter temperatures we have had dozens of them fleeting like windswept petals from one flower to the next in search of nectar since late April.
Alliaria petiolata - Garlic Mustard
Wildflowers like Dandelions, Garlic Mustard flowers and Lady's Smock are their favourite nectar stops along one part of the lade where the damp conditions seem to have encouraged a colony of this species to thrive.
Cardamine pratensis - Ladies Smock
Tastes of Mustard
They are the most restless of butterflies to try and photograph and so far I've just managed to photograph the male as he patrols the hedgerows probably looking for a female. I've got in the way of many a flight path recently and slightest shadow from the lens near their bodies and off they flutter to another flower.
|Male Orange Tip on a Dandelion|
The male certainly isn't so easy to miss while on the wing as his orange forewings are very noticeable in the air. His orange tips are a warning signal to predatory birds that he doesn't taste so good. Any bird that has ever eaten an orange tip only eats one of them once and never forgets the experience............. Well would you like to swallow a big spoonful of mustard oil?
He has a beautiful mosaic of green markings on the underside of his hindwings which is a great camouflage when he is "nectaring" on the wild mustard flowers.
Colour Me Beautiful
|Female Orange Tip - Wiki Commons|
I've been patrolling the hedgerows looking for the females aswell and they are quite an elusive butterfly. Their forewings are dipped in grey rather than orange but they too have the pretty mosaic of green markings on their hindwings. Unfortunately they get mistaken for a common "white" butterfly by many people.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
By mid May the first of the eggs have been laid by the females so I went out with my camera to try and find some. Well I didn't think it would be so easy! The first clump of Garlic Mustard flowers I came across had a little orange egg just below the flowers then I saw another and then another! If you are going out looking for the eggs make sure you look in areas where you have seen the butterflies previously.
|In the light of the moon a little egg lay under a leaf|
Normally the female butterfly leaves a pheromone behind on the plant after laying the egg so that other butterflies know not to lay an egg there. If it isn't detected on a large plant then that's when the cannibalistic tendencies of the species start to show themselves.
|Larvae Caterpillar - Wiki Commons|
The first larvae to hatch will eat the other eggs on the plant and if one of the green caterpillars meets another on the same plant then one will eat the other as they compete for survival. Oh dear I found 3 eggs on one large garlic mustard plant!
The Chrysalis - The Winter Retreat
|Chrysalis - Wiki Commons|
They form a chrysalis in the hedgerows near their food source for the winter months and then emerge as adults once the first warm days of spring arrive.
|Orange Tip Emerging From Chrysalis - Wiki Commons|
..............and so the cycle of life starts all over again.
Interested in this topic? You might enjoy another article I’ve written called
"Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse." Romans 1:20
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