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Chrysalis of Large White.JPG

Life cycles of the forest's butterflies

Chrysalis of  a Large White  butterfly

Complete life cycles of five species

by Doug Goddard

Large White

The yellow, bottle-shaped eggs of the Large White are laid in batches on the underside of leaves of plants of the cabbage family or on Nasturtiums, which may be planted in gardens to attract them.   


The caterpillars have distinctive, colourful markings which advertise to birds that they are distasteful to eat. 

Large White
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21-Large White caterpillars.JPG

The chrysalis is often formed on walls on the side of buildings, under eaves or window sills and the butterfly over-winters in this stage, the adult emerging in the spring.  A female is shown here. 

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Orange Tip


The Orange-tip egg is the easiest of all to find. It can be found on the stalks just below the flower heads of Garlic Mustard, Lady’s Smock, Honesty and other plants of the mustard family. White when first laid, it turns orange after a few days making it stand out. 

The caterpillar feeds on the seed pods of the foodplant, lying along the length of a stalk which makes it difficult to spot. It also has counter-shading of dark green above and lighter below, preventing it from casting a shadow to betray its presence. 

The chrysalis is usually formed amid surrounding vegetation, but may sometimes be found on Garlic Mustard, close to where it was feeding.

The male adult shown here.

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O-TIP MALE 002 (1).JPG

White-letter Hairstreak


The button-shaped egg of the White-letter Hairstreak is laid on a leaf scar often between old and new wood on an elm species, most commonly Wych Elm. It over-winters here.

The caterpillar hatches out in the spring to feed among the opening flower buds moving on to the seeds where it is very difficult to find. The caterpillar moves onto the leaves to feed, leaving characteristic eating damage. When at rest, it moves to a complete, uneaten leaf in order not to betray its presence. Green in colour, it matches its background and the paler markings help to break up its outline even further.


The chrysalis is formed on a pad of silk at the base of the underside of a leaf and sometimes several may be found on a clump of leaves

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27-White-letter Hairstreak caterpillar.JPG



The Comma lays tiny eggs on the outer edge of a leaf of Nettle (shown here), Elm or Wild Hop.

The fully-grown caterpillar (here on Elm) can be found on the underside of a leaf and eats away at the edges. It has a large splash of white on its body which makes it look like a bird dropping.

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The chrysalis can sometimes be found suspended on vegetation near the foodplant. In appearance it resembles a shrivelled dead leaf and the silver spots on its surface extend the camouflage further by imitating drops of dew.

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Red Admiral


Considering the size of the adult butterfly, the green egg of the Red Admiral is very small. Several are shown here, laid on the upper surface of the leaf of a nettle along the midribs.

As it develops the caterpillar forms a conspicuous tent for its protection by pulling several nettle leaves together using silk. Looking for this feature shows where the caterpillar may be found.

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As well as being hidden away in this tent, the caterpillar possesses a number of spikes which further deter predators.

The caterpillar remains in the tent of leaves where it pupates and the chrysalis is shown here in situ. As with the Comma, there are small markings looking like drops of dew, golden in this case.

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