Orange-tips flutter by

Have you seen an orange-tip flutter across your garden or along a hedgerow yet? Orange-tips are an early spring butterfly that emerge after being in a chrysalis for 10 to 12 months. Males emerge first and are the ones with the bright orange tips to their wings. This bright splash of colour is thought to warn predators that they are nasty to eat – as well as attract the females. For us, the orange makes them easy to identify – and to remember their name! Two wins in one…

Orange-tip male feeding on a daisy in an uncut patch of lawn

Females are less showy creatures – as in so much of nature. White on top, their underwings, as with the males, are dappled light green, which provides a brilliant camouflage. Seeing their dappled underwing is the best way of distinguishing an orange-tip female from other species of white butterflies.

I had the good fortune to spot a female orange-tip just after she had emerged from her chrysalis. She spent several hours drying her wings, sitting on an aquilegia plant at the front of our house.

Newly emerged female orange-tip drying her wings, ready to fly

In our gardens, orange-tips lay their eggs on honesty and garlic mustard, known more familiarly as ‘jack-in-the-hedge’ plants. Keeping some of these plants in our gardens gives us a better chance of seeing them.

Honesty plants, with their purple flowers and garlic mustard, with white four petalled flowers and leaves that smell of garlic when you rub them, are favourite egg laying sites for orange-tips and provide food for their hungry caterpillars.

Butterflies are great fun to paint. Cut out a butterfly shape – two large upper wings, two slighter small lower wings and a long thin body down the middle. Fold the paper in half along the long body. Open the paper out and splash some bright paint on one wing. Fold the paper in half again, along the crease you made, so that some of the paint transfers onto the other wing too. Open the paper back out and you have a symmetrically coloured butterfly. If you have pipe cleaners you could stick these on for antennae. Stick them to a front window with blu tac to cheer everyone who passes. Or turn them into a butterfly mobile to flutter in your room.

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