Insects of Britain and Ireland: butterflies

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L. Watson and M. J. Dallwitz


Adults. Wingspan 60–74 mm; the fringes not banded. Slender-bodied to medium built; short-bodied. The eyes glabrous. The head and antennae rosy-tinged. Antennae reaching noticeably less than halfway to the wingtips (very short). The antennal clubs gradual-elongate; curved; more or less flattened (blunt). Labial palps ascending (appressed to the frons). Having all 6 legs fully developed and operational for walking. Fore-legs without a tibial epiphysis. Tibiae of middle legs 2-spurred. Posterior tibiae 2-spurred.

Forewings. Forewings apically hooked. The outer and hind margins angled at about 105–110 degrees. The outer margins sigmoid-curved. Uppersides of the forewings yellow, or primrose; with a conspicuous discal mark (in the form of a small orange spot); unpatterned, save for an orange discal spot, or the latter within a large, paler orange blotch occupying much of the wing; and sometimes with small reddish dots along costa and termen.

Hindwings. Hindwings broadly rounded; slightly tailed; rather with the outer margins scalloped (at least posteriorly towards the anal angle). Uppersides of the hindwings yellow, or primrose; plain (save for the discal spot); with a conspicuous discal mark (in the form of a small orange spot, like that of the forewings); coloured like the fo wings, or lacking the orange blotch they sometimes exhibit.

Undersides of wings. Undersides of the forewings coloured and spotted similarly to the upperside, but with a rather waxy finish.

Undersides of the hindwings coloured and spotted similarly to the upperside, but with a rather waxy finish; with a conspicuous discal mark.

Wing venation. Forewings 11 veined; without basally dilated veins. Forewings with 1 tubular anal vein; the anal veins of the forewings representing 1b only; vein 1b simple. Forewings with a discal cell; vein 2 departing from the cell less than three-quarters of the distance from its base (from about 2/3 out from the base). Forewing veins 2–5 well separate, 6 from 7 on a long stalk, 8 from mid-7, 9 separate from towards the top of the cell, 10 separate from mid-cell, 11 free (Meyrick treated this layout as “7 missing”).

Hindwings 9 veined; without a praecostal spur; with 2 anal veins; exhibiting vein 1a; the anal veins comprising 1a and 1b. Hindwings with a closed discal cell; the transverse vein complete. 7 veins arising from the hindwing cell. The cell-derived hindwing veins all arising independently of one another.

Eggs, larvae, pupae. Eggs narrowly bottle-shaped; longitudinally ribbed. The larvae associated with ants in the early instars (attracting them via secretions presented at the forked tips of long glandular setae); hairy; exposed feeders. On Rhamnus.

Pupae ridged and angular; conspicuously patterned to plain; without shining-metallic markings; exposed, with no coccoon; not suspended, but attached at the tail and secured by a median girdle of silk.

British representation. 2 species. Gonepteryx cleopatra (Cleopatra), Gonepteryx rhamni (Brimstone). The adults abroad May to October, or October to April (i.e., throughout the year); hibernating.

Status in Britain. Indigenous (G. rhamni, with local populations supplemented by immigrants), or adventive (the southern European/African G. cleopatra having been occasionally encountered near ports).

Distribution. Southern Scotland, northern England, English Midlands, East Anglia, Wales, southeast England, central southern England, southwest England, Isle of Wight, and Ireland. Frequenting woodland and open places. Habitats calcareous and non-calcareous.

Comments. Flight strong, irregular, sometimes sustained.

Classification. Superfamily Papilionoidea. Pieridae.

Illustrations. • Gonepteryx rhamni (Brimstone): photos. • Gonepteryx rhamni (Brimstone): Giles Watson, photo. • Gonepteryx rhamni (Brimstone: B. Ent. 173). • Gonepteryx rhamni: B. Ent. 173, legend+text. • Gonepteryx rhamni: B. Ent. 173, text cont.. • Larva and pupa of G. rhamni: Duponchel (1849). • Gonepteryx rhamni (Brimstone): egg, larva, pupa. • Gonepteryx cleopatra (Cleopatra): photos. • Larva and pupa of G. cleopatra: Duponchel (1849).

To view the illustrations with detailed captions, go to the interactive key. This also offers full and partial descriptions, diagnostic descriptions, differences and similarities between taxa, lists of taxa exhibiting or lacking specified attributes, and distributions of character states within any set of taxa.

Cite this publication as: ‘Watson, L., and Dallwitz, M.J. 2008 onwards. Insects of Britain and Ireland: butterflies. Version: 16th May 2016.’.