When I was a child in the Midlands, identification of butterflies was easy. There were only two different species – if they were white then they were Cabbage Whites and all the rest which, being any colour other than white, were termed Frenchies. Why this was, I do not know but it made life so simple.
What I do know is that since growing much older and looking into wild life much deeper, it has suddenly become much more complicated. Here in Cornwall there are 37 resident species and 3 regular migrants (Clouded Yellow, Painted Lady and Red Admiral). I have been fortunate to see around 24 of these.
This year for example, with all the good weather, the regulars are appearing at their allotted times. It is interesting to see the overwintering Red Admirals appear in mid-winter when the sun comes out, then the early ones such as Orange Tip followed by Ringlet and Gatekeeper and just this last week, Wall and Silver-washed Fritillaries are making an appearance.
I have been most fortunate to add two new species to my total this year both recorded on my garden – a Green Hairstreak and Holly Blues.
My “Frenchie” count is increasing and I am becoming more confident in identification of these coloured butterflies. What still eludes me is the sure-fire way of differentiating the “Cabbage Whites”. I know now that there are 5 species of white. Orange Tip which are comparatively easy if they are males with their distinctive orange tipped wings. The females fall into the more difficult category where the underwings are diagnostic. Orange Tips have the checkered pattern whereas Green-Veined Whites have distinctive dark veining on the underwings. Wood White and Marbled White are uncommon and fairly easy to distinguish.
After all these years, it is those Large and Small “Cabbage” Whites that remain so difficult.