Predominantly White Butterflies

Where required, photos and information have been reproduced with the kind permission of Butterfly Conservation.

In each section, the MALE is shown as the top line photograh(s)...photos of the FEMALE are shown on the second line.


Large White

  JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC
Adult                         
Larva                        

Large White - Photograph by Jim Asher    Large White - Photograph by Jim Asher

Common and widespread throughout Britain and Ireland. A large strong flying butterfly. Brilliant white wings with black tips to forewings, extending down wing edge. Females also have two spots on forewings not present in males. Undersides creamy white with two spots.

Resident

Range stable.

The Large White is our largest white butterfly and is a strong flyer. It is not always welcomed in gardens and fields because of the damage its larvae inflict on brassica crops. The larvae are brightly coloured and conspicuous, a signal to warn predators of the irritant and poisonous mustard oils they have concentrated from the foodplants.

Many adults seen in Britain and Ireland have flown from mainland Europe. Numbers of both residents and migrants of this common and widespread species vary considerably from year to year.

Conservation status

European/world range

Occurs throughout Europe and North Africa and extends across Asia to the Himalayas. The distribution is stable in most European countries, but there have been declines in some countries and expansions in others.

Foodplants

The larvae feed on wild or cultivated species of the Cruciferae family, with a strong preference for cultivated varieties of Brassica oleracea such as Cabbage and Brussels-sprout and varieties of B. napus such as Oil-seed Rape. Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) and Wild Mignonette (Reseda lutea) are also used, as is Sea-kale (Crambe maritima) along the coast.

Habitat

This is a strongly mobile and migrant species that may be encountered in any location, throughout Britain and Ireland, even on mountain tops. Most adults are seen close to breeding areas, in gardens, allotments, and fields where brassica crops are grown. They may congregate in large numbers in fields of Oil-seed Rape. Wild species of foodplants are thought not to be important for this species.

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Marbled White

  JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC
Adult                         
Larva                        

Marbled White - Photograph by Jim Asher    Marbled Whites - Photograph by Jim Asher

Widespread in southern England and parts of southern Wales. Medium-sized butterfly, with black and white checked wings. Found in flowery grassland but may stray into gardens.

Resident

Range expanding.

The Marbled White is a distinctive and attractive black and white butterfly, unlikely to be mistaken for any other species. In July it flies in areas of unimproved grassland and can occur in large numbers on southern downland. It shows a marked preference for purple flowers such as Wild Marjoram, Field Scabious, thistles, and knapweeds. Adults may be found roosting halfway down tall grass stems.

This species is widespread in southern Britain and has expanded northwards and eastwards over the last twenty years, despite some losses within its range.

Conservation status

European/world range

Most of Europe (except Scandinavia) and North Africa and eastwards to Iran. It is stable in most European countries.

Foodplants

Red Fescue (Festuca rubra) is thought to be essential in the diet of larvae but Sheep's-fescue (F. ovina), Yorkshire-fog (Holcus lanatus), and Tor-grass (Brachypodium pinnatum) are also eaten. It is thought that several other grasses may be used, but the full range is not known.

Habitat

Colonies occur on unimproved grassland where a range of grass species, including Red Fescue, form a tall sward that is cut or grazed infrequently. The strongest populations are found on chalk or limestone, but a range of habitats is used, including woodland rides and clearings, coastal grassland, waste ground, set-aside, road verges, and railway embankments.


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Orange-tip

  JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC
Adult                         
Larva                        

Orange-tip  - Photograph by Jim Asher   Orange-tip - Photograph by Jim Asher

Orange-tip  - Photograph by Jim Asher   Orange-tip male by Jim Asher

Common and widespread. A medium sized butterfly of gardens and hedgerows. Males have white wings with orange wing tips. Females are white with black wing tips. Both have mottled green underwings. Small White similar to female but without underwing markings.

Resident

Range expanding.

Orange-tips are seen commonly in early summer along hedgerows, road verges, and woodland edges.

The mottled pattern of yellow and black scales on the underside hindwings provides excellent camouflage when they roost on flower heads such as those of Cow Parsley.

The butterfly is widespread in Ireland and southern Britain and has spread north rapidly over the past 25 years, especially in Scotland.

Conservation status

European/world range

Through most of Europe, as far north as central Scandinavia, across the Middle East and into temperate parts of Asia, as far as Japan. Its European range appears to be spreading northwards.

Foodplants

Several crucifers are used, especially Cuckooflower (Cardamine pratensis) in damp meadows and Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) along road verges and ditches. Occasionally, it uses Hedge Mustard (Sisymbrium officinale), Winter-cress (Barbarea vulgaris), Turnip (Brassica rapa), Charlock (Sinapis avensis), Large Bitter-cress (C. amara), and Hairy Rock-cress (Arabis hirsuta). In addition, it lays eggs on Honesty (Lunaria annua) and Dame's-violet (Hesperis matronalis) in gardens, but larval survival is thought to be poor on these plants.

Habitat

A wide range of damp grassy habitats is used, including meadows, grassy areas in woodland, road verges and waterside habitats such as ditches and the banks of rivers and canals. Northern and western populations seem to be associated mainly with wetter habitats and Cuckooflower is the usual foodplant, perhaps because Garlic Mustard is less common.

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Small White

  JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC
Adult                         
Larva                        

Small White  - Photograph by Jim Asher    Small White - Photograph by Ken Willmott

A small strong-flying butterfly, common and widespread throughout Britain and Ireland. Brilliant white wings with small black tips to forewings and one or two wing spots. Undersides creamy white. Large White is similar but larger and has larger spot in tip of forewing that extends down wing edge.

Resident

Range stable.

The Small White is a highly mobile species and each year the resident population is boosted by individuals flying in from mainland Europe. It is a common visitor to gardens where it breeds on brassicas and Nasturtium, though it relies less on cultivated brassica crops than the Large White and breeds on a range of wild foodplants. Adult butterflies are attracted to white flowers where they feed and on which they are well camouflaged when roosting. This is a common and widespread species.

Conservation status

European/world range

Throughout Europe and north-west Africa, and east to Asia and Japan. Introduced to North America in the nineteenth century and Australia in 1939, it is now widespread in both. Its range has changed little in Europe.

Foodplants

Cultivated brassicas are used, especially cabbages, and Nasturtium (Tropaeoleum majus) in gardens. Wild crucifers, including Wild Cabbage (Brassica oleracea), Charlock (Sinapis arvensis), Hedge Mustard (Sisymbrium officinale), Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), Hoary Cress (Lepidium draba), and Wild Mignonette (Reseda lutea) are used to a lesser extent.

Habitat

It occurs in almost any habitat but is most plentiful in gardens and fields where brassica crops are grown. Large numbers may congregate in fields of Oil-seed Rape. Elsewhere, it is found in smaller numbers especially in sheltered places such as hedgerows and field and wood edges where wild crucifers occur.

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Wood White

  JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC
Adult                         
Larva                        

Wood White - Photograph by Jim Asher

Rare in south England and the Burren region of western Ireland. A small butterfly with a dainty flight, usually found in woodland glades or scrub. Upperwings white with rounded edges. Males have black mark on edge of forewing. Undersides white with indistinct grey markings.

Resident

Range declining in Britain, probably stable in Ireland.

The Wood White is a delicate, slow-flying butterfly usually encountered in sheltered situations, such as woodland rides or scrub edges. The males fly almost continuously in fine weather, patrolling to find a mate, whereas females spend much of their time feeding on flowers or resting. In the characteristic courtship display the male lands opposite the female and waves his head and antennae backwards and forwards with his proboscis extended.

The butterfly has declined seriously in England and Wales. In Ireland it has so far been found only in the Burren, whilst its sister species, Real's Wood White, is widespread and has expanded northwards in recent decades.

Conservation status

European/world range

Widespread in Europe as far as 66B:N in Scandinavia and eastwards to the Caucasus Mountains and Siberia. In some countries it overlaps with a very similar species, Leptidea reali, which can be distinguished only by differences in genitalia. It has declined in a few European countries.

Foodplants

Various legumes are used, commonly Meadow Vetchling (Lathyrus pratensis), Bitter-vetch (L. linifolius), Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca), Common Bird's-foot-trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), and Greater Bird's-foot-trefoil (L. pedunculatus). (Note that some vetches are not used, notably Bush Vetch, V. sepium, and Common Vetch, V. sativa).

Habitat

The Wood White breeds in tall grassland or light scrub in partially shaded or edge habitats. In Britain, most colonies breed in woodland rides and clearings, though a few large colonies occur on coastal undercliffs. A few smaller colonies occur on disused railway lines and around rough, overgrown field edges (for example in north Devon). In Ireland, more open habitats are used, often far from woodland, including rough grassland with scrub, road verges, hedges, and disused railway lines.

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Green-veined White

  JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC
Adult                         
Larva                        

Green-veined White - Photograph by     Green-veined White - Photograph by Jim Asher

Widespread and common throughout Britain and Ireland. Wings white with prominent greenish veins on hind wing. Uppers have one or more spots. Small White is similar but lacks green veins.

Resident

Range stable.

The Green-veined White can be found throughout the countryside, but prefers damp, sheltered areas. It breeds on wild crucifers and is not a pest of cabbage crops. In many areas away from human habitation, especially on higher ground and in northern latitudes, this species is more often encountered than Large or Small Whites. The dusky vein markings on the undersides of the wings are variable in colour and make it well camouflaged when it roosts among vegetation.

The butterfly is common and widespread in Britain and Ireland, but it is probably less abundant than formerly due to loss of its grassland habitats.

Conservation status

European/world range

Across Europe (except for some Mediterranean islands), parts of North Africa, across Asia and in North America. Its range is stable in most European countries.

Foodplants

A range of wild crucifers is used: Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), Cuckooflower (Cardamine pratensis), Hedge Mustard (Sisymbrium officinale) Water-cress (Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum), Charlock (Sinapis arvensis), Large Bitter-cress (C. amara), Wild Cabbage (Brassica oleracea), and Wild Radish (Raphanus raphanistrum. Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) and cultivated crucifers are also used occasionally.

Habitat

Adults occur widely but tend to congregate in damp, lush vegetation where their foodplants are found, especially hedgerows, ditches, banks of rivers, lakes, and ponds, damp meadows and moorland, and woodland rides and edges.

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