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Do you know your Whites?

In April there are three small white butterflies that look very similar from above, the Small and Green-veined White and the female Orange Tip; the female Orange Tip doesn't have any orange, compared to stunning male Orange Tip (below) which is a lot easier to identify!

Upper wing photos below from left to right: The Small White has very limited black at the forewing tips that hardly goes down the outer edge; on the Green-veined White there are grey triangles at the end of each wing vein making the dark wing-tips look more extensive. The female Orange Tip has distinct black wing-tips as a neater (although sometimes paler) dark half-circle.

Underside photos below (from left to right); The undersides are far easier, although the Small white is still relatively indistinct, with a yellowish wash when fresh paling to smudgy grey with age. The Green-veined has extensive borders to the veins, and the mottled green on the Orange tip is a mix of black and yellow scales that produce the greenish colour.

In flight the Orange Tip looks smaller and has a more fluttery flight. The other two can look very similar indeed. The larger Large White is, thankfully, mostly larger and has far more extensive dark black wing-tips (pictured below left). In late May, the rare Wood White (pictured below middle) is on the wing, but its delicate bouncy flight, rounded wings and general appearance makes it easy to identify, except for a pale washed out Green-veined White flying in cooler weather. If you want a real challenge, the Cryptic |Wood White (below right) are indistinguishable in appearance from Wood White. They are a different species, but look the same, which is called cryptic biodiversity. However in GB and Ireland, the Cryptic Wood White is only found in Ireland and NI (although the Wood White is restricted there to the Burren in the SW).

Both Cryptic Wood White and Wood White have a courtship which is beautiful to watch. The males wave their antennae and proboscis at the female and gentle strokes her. I've been lucky to watch this with both species, and nearly every time she has said no! Below, Cryptic Wood White on the left and Wood White on the right.


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