Insects of Britain and Ireland: butterflies

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L. Watson and M. J. Dallwitz


Adults. Wingspan (31–)40–72(–76) mm. The wings somewhat translucent (Aporia only), or opaque. The fringes conspicuously light-and-dark banded, or not banded. Very slender-bodied to medium built; short-bodied (almost invariably), or medium-bodied to long-bodied (e.g., in L. sinapis). The eyes not white-rimmed; glabrous. The head and antennae rosy-tinged (sometimes), or not rosy-tinged. Antennae reaching noticeably less than halfway to the wingtips, or reaching about halfway to the wingtips; inserted markedly less than one half the width of the head apart. The antennal clubs gradual-elongate, or abrupt; curved, or not curved; usually pale-tipped, strongly flattened, or not flattened (Colias). 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 blunt, or hooked (Gonepteryx). The outer and hind margins angled at (90–)97–105(–126.5) degrees. The outer margins convexly curved to more or less straight, or sigmoid-curved (Gonepteryx). Uppersides of the forewings white, or cream, or yellow, or primrose; contrastingly dark-veined (Aporia, and sometimes in P. napi), or not conspicuously dark-veined; sometimes with a conspicuous discal mark, or without a discal mark.

Hindwings. Hindwings broadly rounded; tailed (Gonepteryx), or not tailed (usually); with the outer margins not scalloped (usually), or with the outer margins scalloped to with the outer margins not scalloped (in Gonepteryx). Uppersides of the hindwings white, or cream, or yellow, or primrose; conspicuously dark-veined (Aporia, and sometimes in P. napi), or not dark-veined; conspicuously patterned, or plain. Uppersides of the hindwings not eye-spotted. Uppersides of the hindwings with a conspicuous discal mark, or without a discal mark.

Undersides of wings. Undersides of the forewings conspicuously dark-veined (Aporia and P. napi), or not dark-veined.

Undersides of the hindwings not bright green (may be chequered greenish); conspicuously dark-veined (in Aporia and P. napi), or not dark-veined; eye-spotted (in Colias), or not eye-spotted. The eye-spots in Colias 1 (double); more or less central.

Wing venation. Forewings 11 veined (then vein 7 or 9 absent), or 12 veined; without basally dilated veins. Forewings with 1 tubular anal vein; the anal veins of the forewings representing 1b only; vein 1b simple. Forewing veins 7, 8 and 9 stalked or coincident.

Hindwings 8 veined (Aporia, Pontia), or 9 veined (usually), or 9–10 veined; with a praecostal spur, or without a praecostal spur; with 2 anal veins, or with 3 anal veins; exhibiting vein 1a; the anal veins comprising 1a and 1b, or comprising 1a, 1b and 1c. 6 veins arising from the hindwing cell (Leptidea), or 7 veins arising from the hindwing cell (usually). The cell-derived hindwing veins all arising independently of one another, or 6+7 proximally joined.

Eggs, larvae, pupae. Eggs bottle-shaped, or truncate-fusiform, or bottle-shaped to truncate-fusiform; longitudinally ribbed. The larvae associated with ants in the early instars (attracting them via secretions presented at the forked tips of long glandular setae), or having no known association with ants (when the setae are apparently non-secretory: Colias, Aporia, Pieris brassicae); hairy; without tentacles on segment 2; exposed feeders. Mostly on Cruciferae or Papilionaceae, but the extinct Aporia on woody Rosaceae and Gonepteryx on Rhamnus.

Pupae ridged and angular, or smooth and rounded; conspicuously patterned, or 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. Genera 8; 15 species (including 3 adventive, 1 extinct). Anthocharis cardamines (Orange Tip), Aporia crataegi (Black-veined White - extinct in Britain), Colias alfacariensis (Berger’s Clouded Yellow - adventive, or perhaps often confused with the closely similar C. hyale), Colias hyale (Pale Clouded Yellow), Colias croceus (Clouded Yellow), Colias palaeno (Moorland Clouded Yellow, adventive), Euchloë simplonia (Dappled White, adventive), Gonepteryx cleopatra (Cleopatra, adventive), Gonepteryx rhamni (Brimstone), Leptidea sinapis (Wood White), Pieris brassicae (Large White), Pieris rapae (Small White), Pieris napi (Green-veined White), Pontia daplidice (Bath White). The adults hibernating (Gonepteryx), or not hibernating.

Distribution. Frequenting woodland (especially P. napi and L. sinapis), or open places. Habitats calcareous and non-calcareous.

Comments. Mostly relatively weak, fluttering fliers, with the exceptions of Colias spp., Gonepteryx.

Classification. Superfamily Papilionoidea.

Illustrations. • Pieridae (1): Newman, 1871. • Pieridae (2): Newman, 1871. • Pieridae (3): Newman, 1871. • Pieridae: dwarfism in Anthocharis cardamines (Orange Tip) and Pieris rapae (Small White): photos. • Pieridae: examples of larvae and pupae (Le Cerf & Herbulot). • Colias, Leptidea: neuration.

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.’.