Springtime Butterflies

Now we are into May a few more butterflies will be making an appearance in gardens. The Speckled Wood and Orange-tip. These two species have spent the winter in the chrysalis stage of their life cycle and are ready to emerge as adult butterflies as the weather warms up.

The Speckled Wood has chocolate brown coloured wings with small cream coloured blotches and eye spots. The Orange-tip is very distinctive as the outer half of the fore wings are bright orange, hence its common name. Only the male Orange-tip has the orange wing tips, the female has grey tips to its wings. However, it is mostly males that are seen flying as the females tend to hide in undergrowth while the males fly around trying to locate them by scent.

A Speckled Wood Butterfly

Both species are garden visitors and can often be seen sunning themselves or looking for nectar. The Speckled Wood likes to fly along hedgerows and woodland edges and often ends up in gardens. It lays its eggs on various grasses, including cock’s-foot and Yorkshire Fog, and the caterpillars eat the grass leaves.

These caterpillars develop quickly and will turn into adult butterflies in about six weeks. These new Speckled Woods mate and lay eggs and so several generations of Speckled Wood will hatch though the summer. It can be seen flying from now right through until the autumn.

An Orange-tip Butterfly

The Orange-tip uses Cuckooflower, (also called Lady’s Smock) and Garlic Mustard as a caterpillar food plant. In the case of the Orange-tip only one egg is laid on each plant as the caterpillars are cannibalistic and if more than one egg hatches on a plant one of the caterpillars will kill and eat its rivals!

In contrast to the Speckled Wood, this is the only time of year when you can see Orange-tips flying. The caterpillars which hatch from the eggs feed until around the end of June. Then they look for a place to pupate in bushes or tall vegetation, and spend the next nine months as chrysalises until next spring when they emerge as adult butterflies to complete the cycle.