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.
Habitat and Conservation
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.
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.
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.