Country diary: the orange tip’s wings are the very map of spring


Wenlock Edge, Shropshire: A female flickers through the syrupy light of May, and settles long enough on a bramble to study

Out of the shadow comes a white folded note. It flicks open and closed, like the paper fortune-teller device revealing charcoal glyphs. This is an orange tip butterfly, except it isn’t – the females don’t have orange tips to their wings.

She is one of spring’s emblematic sprites, earlier because of climate change, and she may, by posting anti-aphrodisiac pheromone messages, reject male attention so that she can lay eggs on the hedge mustard or cuckoo flower in peace. Also known as Lady of the Woods, she was scientifically defined by Linnaeus in 1758 as Anthocharis cardamines, and then by Verity in 1908 as belonging to the subspecies britannia – something to do with the “extension of the black apical markings to the anal angle”.

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