The earlier pictures were taken on my wee compact Canon ixus 970IS, which involved sneaking up on the butterflies. This can be very frustrating when they fly off, but very rewarding when they don't!

Since 2012 I have been using a Panasonic Lumix FZ150, which allows me to zoom in to the butterflies from a couple of metres away.



Sunday, 17 July 2016

Orange Tip Chrysalis

Over the winter I try to keep myself amused by finding hibernating butterflies. In December last year a friend, Abbie, said that she had spotted some old lime kilns close to where we had seen Red Admirals in the autumn. We were sure they must be over-wintering somewhere, but have never found them hibernating.

We searched the lime kilns, but couldn't find any places where they could be hibernating. I commended that we were surrounded by the dried up seed heads of Garlic Mustard, Alliaria petiolata, which is the favourite food plant for Orange Tip caterpillars, Anthocharis cardamines.
I have only ever found one Orange Tip chrysalis despite searching for hours in the past.

We searched for some time and then we found a lovely green chrysalis on a dried up seed head.


Despite there being hundreds of suitable plants this was the only one we found. I said that I suspect that the caterpillars may go in search of alternative plants to form a chrysalis on. Garlic Mustard becomes very brittle and I can imagine it breaking easily in heavy snow or when it is windy.

Abbie found some more Garlic Mustard plants under a Hawthorn hedge and she searched among the thorns and found a second chrysalis. It was amazingly well camouflaged, looking just like one of the thorns.


Sadly the first chrysalis we found disappeared a few days later, but the the chrysalis on the Hawthorn hedge must have become one of the most watched chrysalis in Scotland! When it became time for it to eclose Abbie would check it almost daily and send me an e-mail of any changes and I would call in to see it if I was passing.

It remained unchanged over the winter, but in the middle of April it changed colour.


We were a little concerned, but hoped that this was a sign that a butterfly was forming within. The day after I noticed that it had started to turn orange. This picture was taken on 20th April.


With the orange showing through I was sure that the butterfly would emerge within a day or two, but sadly the weather changed for the worse.

I took this next picture on the 21st April, which shows how difficult it is to spot an Orange Tip chrysalis on a Hawthorn bush!


After a few days we were sure that the chrysalis must have died. The temperature had dropped and the skies remained cloudy. Despite this, we would still have a look every couple of days.

Fast forward a month and the sun came out again!! Over the weekend of 21st/22nd May both Abbie and I were helping out at Scotland's Big Nature Festival, an event put on by the RSPB and other conservation organisations. It wasn't until a couple of days after that Abbie went to have a look at the chrysalis to discover an empty shell. The butterfly must have eclosed over the weekend when we weren't looking!! I took this picture a few days after, by which time the chrysalis was full of rain water!


I hope that the butterfly managed to dodge the rain and has gone on to produce more eggs to give us something to watch this winter!

Orange Tip male

Orange Tip female





12 comments:

  1. Lovely! How wonderful you were able to capture the process!

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    1. Hi Michelle,
      It was very interesting. When I have more time I would like to spend more time observing the different stages of a butterfly's life! So many times I have seen eggs, caterpillars and chrysalis fail to develop, and it amazes me that we have any butterflies left at all!

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  2. Hi Nick, i am thrilled as well as you develop the drama of the chrysalis, braving the cold and the stresses of your climate. I am awed at how they can live in those conditions, i scrutinized if the exoskeleton is maybe thicker and more insulated than those found here. They are incredible creatures. Eventually, i am as happy with you in realizing that it was able to withstand the cold and was able to eclose.

    Here the butterflies are roaming again, with the plenty of food and the short maturation of larvae and pupae. Unfortunately, with my limited time at home and the need for me by the hoyas, i can't take their photos. They are already very alert the moment they come to the garden.

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    1. Andrea,
      I found it surprising that the chrysalis appeared to be able to stop its development, when it looked to be so close to eclosing. It remained in that state for over a month. Mind you, Orange Tips form chrysalises in July and remain like that until the following April here. Compare that with how rapidly they develop with you!

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  3. ¡Felicidades por ese precioso e interesante blog!. Saludos desde Asturias.

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  4. This is so beautiful Nick, and I´m really glad you showed me this. This type of chrysalis would be so easy to destroy accidentally, simply because its shape blends so easily with the environment, Ive never seen anything like this in my life. You even got the male and female Orange Tip Chrysalis! Thanks so much for such an educational post!

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    1. Maria, I hate to think how many chrysalis are lost over the year when hedges and road verges are cut. I spend hours searching for chrysalises of all sorts of species and very rarely find any! I guess that being difficult to spot probably helps their survival.

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  5. I had no idea that they could slow down their development! How clever!
    Loved the pics, Nick.

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    1. Thanks Sunita. It is remarkable, but probably just as well that they can delay their development given the weather here!!

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  6. Hello Nick!:) I hope you and your family are well. This is such a lovey enlightening post. It's amazing how well camouflaged the chrysalis becomes after it changes to brown, and even more incredible because of it's ability to delay it's development. The Orange Tip is one of my favourite butterflies, and so I'm glad this story has a happy ending. Thank you Nick for your photos and your observations.

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    1. Hi Sonjia. It was fun having something to watch over the winter. There must be thousands of chrysalis around, but I hardly ever find one. I guess they are designed to be difficult to find!!

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