Falcate Orangetip: A Tiny Butterfly of Early Spring

One of our earliest spring fliers, the tiny falcate orangetip is such a cheerful sight, but they’re so small they’re easy to overlook.  Males emerge first, with their distinctive orange spots on the edges of the wings, and a few days later, there will be females about.  I was thrilled to find one nectaring on the Bluets after writing that post earlier this month.

It was so exciting to run into these out on the island this week, and they’re easy to miss, because they look like a flower petal or a little white moth. One was nectaring on the hop clover (Medicago lupulina) with tiny yellow flowers.  Here is a photo of a measuring tape against the flowers so you get a sense of the size.

The name “falcate orangetip” refers mostly to the male (falcate meaning hooked) and those bright tips on the wings.  Females are almost totally white on the topside with a few dots and some edging on the forewing, and both butterflies have marbled markings on the hindwings.

The life cycle of a falcate orangetip is fairly quick: this website says that eggs take 4-7 days from laying to hatching, caterpillars live 2-4 weeks, and then adult butterflies live 6-10 days. I will probably head out and try to find the eggs (one per host plant) to see if we can learn more.  I know their host plants are brassicas, which include sea rocket, and I wondered if this greenish caterpillar with a lateral stripe under a sea rocket might be an orangetip.

If you see me out there crawling around in the bushes, you’ll know what I’m looking for.