Falcate Orangetip

Anthocharis midea

falcate_otip_2012.jpg

Photo of a falcate orangetip nectaring on a spring beauty flower
Falcate orangetip males are unmistakable with their small size, white coloration, and orange wingtips.
Donna Brunet
Family

Pieridae (whites, sulphurs, yellows)

Description

Falcate orangetip males are unmistakable with their small size, white coloration, and orange wingtips. The size of the orange wing patch can vary greatly. Both sexes have hooked (falcate) forewings and also have black spots along the wing margins and in the center of the forewings. A maze of narrow green marbling covers the ventral hindwing and forewing tip. The flight, while not rapid, can be quite erratic.

Larvae are bluish green with an orange stripe down the middle of the back and a white stripe running along each side.

Size

Wingspan: 1–1½ inches.

Habitat and conservation

In Missouri, the falcate orangetip is a species of open woodlands and glades. Look for orangetips flying very low to the ground for a few weeks in April and May in all but the northern edge of the state. In certain Ozark localities, they can be abundant. Males wander to high points in an area, searching for females.

Foods

Caterpillars eat flowers, developing fruits, and young leaves of native plants in the mustard family, including rock cresses, bitter cresses, and shepherd's purse, and toothwort. They feed at night. Adult falcate orangetips visit spring wildflowers — usually small, low-growing varieties such as toothwort and other mustards, violets, and spring beauty.

Distribution in Missouri

Nearly statewide, but apparently absent from the northern edge. Mostly found in forested regions, particularly the Ozarks.

Status

Single-brooded resident species. Widespread but local.

Life cycle

Males patrol for females at high points in the landscape. Females lay eggs singly onto a suitable food plant. Because a single caterpillar will eat all of the flowering parts on a plant, a caterpillar will cannibalize smaller caterpillars competing for the same food. Females normally do not deposit an egg onto a flower cluster that holds a previously laid egg.

This species overwinters as a chrysalis and emerges in spring as an adult butterfly. Some of the thorn-shaped chrysalids overwinter for two years — this might allow those individuals to survive years with unfavorable spring weather.

Human connections

People are psychologically connected to nature. After the long winter, our hearts dance when we begin seeing signs of spring. One of these signs is the April appearance of male falcate orangetips, as they patrol Ozark hilltops amid spring wildflowers and greening grasses.

We humans are intellectual creatures, too, and behavioral ecology is a rich area of biological study. The lives of insects, including the falcate orangetip, present fascinating questions about genetics, environment, forms, and behaviors.

Ecosystem connections

The caterpillars of falcate orangetips eat the flowers and young fruits of mustard plants, “nipping them in the bud” and serving as a limiting factor in the reproduction and spread of those prolific annual plants.

A rather early, springtime emergence (compared to many other butterflies) may enable this species to experience less competition for food plants — but it presents the risk of unpredictable, possibly fatal springtime weather.

That some falcate orangetips take two years before emerging from the pupae apparently helps solve the problem of possible bad springtime weather. Individuals that emerge in their first spring could be killed by inclement weather before they can reproduce, but if the weather turns out fine, they get a jump on their chances to create offspring. Those that wait two years to emerge risk being discovered and eaten by predators during that long, defenseless pupal period, but in the coin toss of springtime weather fluctuations, they may end up with more favorable conditions when they do emerge as butterflies.