Falcate Orange-tip

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Filed under Outdoor Notes

May 3, 2011

Springtime brings out lots of small, white cabbage butterflies of the Pieridae family. Many of them are almost impossible to tell apart in the field. One, however, is easy. The Falcate Orangetip (Anthocharis midea) is a small, white butterfly with bright orange, hooked wing tips.

Falcate Orangetip

Falcate Orangetip underwing

Falcate Orangetip male

Falcate Orangetip male

Now, the orangetip part of the common name is fairly easy to understand. Falcate, on the other hand is a somewhat arcane word that means sickle-shaped–which describes the tip of the forewing.

I tracked this fellow up and down a Game Commission service road on top of a ridge on two different days before I got his picture. There were two of them, and they patrolled slowly up and down the road–apparently looking for females. They seemed to have determined that one had the top of the hill, while the other had the slope. Whenever they met each other at the border, there would be a butterfly fight–which has to be one of the silliest displays of aggression in the world.

Really, how much damage can a butterfly do–even to another butterfly?

Falcate Orangetip

Falcate Orangetip female

The females were easier, they stopped often to feed on small flowers–Shepherds Purse, Dwarf Cinquefoil, Mustard, and (sadly) Garlic Mustard.

Garlic Mustard

Garlic Mustard

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)┬áis a problem. It is an extremely aggressive invasive species that grows in great swaths in rich woodlands and edge communities. It can be kinda pretty when it shows up in big clumps in the woods, but it crowds out native species, and worse, it is toxic to certain native animals–including the larvae of Falcate Orangetips.

Falcate Orangetips are listed as vulnerable in Pennsylvania, mostly because of Garlic Mustard.

Like many members of the Pieridae, Falcate Orange-tip larvae feed on members of the mustard family (Cruciferae)–which includes Garlic Mustard. Problem is, although it is toxic to the larvae, the female sees a mustard and will lay her eggs anyway. This has caused the Falcate Orangetip to lose ground in rich wooded environments. It seems to be holding its own in higher, drier areas.

The Falcate Orangetip is a spring butterfly; look for it in Pennsylvania starting in April, and don’t expect to find it much after June.

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One Response

  1. rose said:

    enjoyed this very much; who would have thought garlic could be toxic?

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