Choice of larval foodplants by the Orange Tip butterfly

During survey work on the Cheshire Butterfly Recording Scheme I have searched for the eggs of the Orange Tip butterfly at many sites throughout the county (each site being situated in a different 1km x 1km square). This survey was conducted over a period of four years (1994 to 1997 inclusive) and revealed the wide range of plants in the Cruciferae family which this butterfly utilises. The following is a list of the 27 species on which eggs were recorded:-

1 site Tall Rocket (Sisymbrium altissimum) at Higher Poynton.

3 sites Eastern Rocket (Sisymbrium orientale).

19 sites Hedge Mustard (Sisymbrium officinale).

260 sites Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata).

1 site Thale Cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) at Siddington.

11 sites Dame's Violet (Hesperis matronalis).

10 sites Common Wintercress (Barbarea vulgaris).

2 sites American Wintercress (Barbarea verna).

1 site Watercress (Rorippa nasturtium-aquaticum) at Bollington.

1 site Marsh Yellowcress (Rorippa palustris) at Macclesfield.

1 site Great Yellowcress (Rorippa amphibia) at Handforth.

2 sites Horse Radish (Armoracia rusticana).

11 sites Large Bittercress (Cardamine amara).

162 sites Cuckoo Flower (Cardamine pratensis).

1 site Wavy Bittercress (Cardamine flexuosa) at Gatley.

1 site Garden Rockcress (Arabis caucasica) at Rainow.

13 sites Honesty (Lunaria annua).

18 sites Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris).

2 sites Field Pennycress (Thlaspi arvense).

2 sites Hoary Cress (Lepidium draba).

1 site Wild Cabbage (Brassica oleracea) at Adlington.

28 sites Rape (Brassica napus).

1 site Wild Turnip (Brassica rapa) at Heald Green.

2 sites Black Mustard (Brassica nigra).

4 sites Charlock (Sinapis arvensis).

1 site White Mustard (Sinapis alba) at Lea-by-Backford.

1 site Hoary Mustard (Hirschfeldia incana) at Northwich.

Many of these plants grow abundantly in Cheshire and the survey confirmed that the Orange Tip has an overwhelming preference to lay its eggs on either Garlic Mustard or Cuckoo Flower. It should not, however, be assumed that because eggs were found more frequently on Garlic Mustard, rather than on Cuckoo Flower, that this indicates it is the first choice of the Orange Tip. A more likely explanation for these figures is that I tended to check more hedgerows and roadside verges where Garlic Mustard flourishes, rather than damp meadows where Cuckoo Flower is most frequently found. At sites where both plants grew together, eggs were invariably found on both species, although there were a small number of occasions when no eggs had been laid on Garlic Mustard, but no instances where none were found on Cuckoo Flower - possibly an indication that in Cheshire the favoured foodplant is Cuckoo Flower.

A further point to take into consideration regarding choice of foodplant is that some of the above plants have their main flowering period when Orange Tip numbers have already passed their peak. In these cases it is only to be expected that eggs were recorded on them less frequently than on some of the earlier flowering species. It was, however, noticed that in most instances where eggs were laid on less favoured foodplants, it was at localities situated some distance from the preferred plants of the Orange Tip.

During this survey several other species of Cruciferae were checked on which eggs could not be found - these included Wallflower (Erysimum cheiri), Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta), Aubretia (Aubrieta deltoidea), Golden Alison (Alyssum saxatile), Danish Scurvy-grass (Cochlearia danica), Annual Wall Rocket (Diplotaxis muralis), Chinese Mustard (Brassica juncea) and Wild Radish (Raphanus raphanistrum). In some parts of Britain the Orange Tip also lays its eggs on plants of the Resedaceae family - Weld (Reseda luteola) and Wild Mignonette (Reseda lutea), but these were checked in Cheshire without success.


Additions from 1998 to 2005 surveys:-

4 sites Hedge Mustard, 40 sites Garlic Mustard, 3 sites Dame's Violet, 1 site Horse Radish, 54 sites Cuckoo Flower, 3 sites Honesty, 4 sites Shepherd's Purse, 5 sites Rape, 1 site Charlock, 2 sites Large Bittercress, 2 sites Common Wintercress, 1 site Greater Yellowcress.

Outside Cheshire I have found eggs on the following:-

Greater Cuckooflower (Cardamine raphanifolia) at Witherslack , Cumbria on 17 th May 1998 .

Hairy Rockcress (Arabis hirsuta) at Whitbarrow Scar , Cumbria on 17 th May 1998 .

Written by Barry Shaw for News, the Cheshire and Peak Distrcit Branch of Butterfly Conservation magazine


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