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Photograph by: 
Peter Orchard

A common butterfly of spring and late summer


  • Brimstone butterfly: bucking the trend

    Post date: Wednesday, 12 March, 2014 - 00:00

    The brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni) is unique in several ways. Firstly, it has an almost unpronounceable and unspellable scientific name, Gonepteryx rhamni!

    Secondly, its larvae feed exclusively on alder buckthorn and purging buckthorn which are generally found in open chalk downland areas and yet the brimstone is plentiful here in Purbeck where these buckthorns are not common. They are frequent visitors to our garden where there is certainly no buckthorn at all and it is believed that they do travel great distances.

    Thirdly, whilst some species like the red admiral, peacock and small tortoiseshell do hibernate most of our main early specimens of these species are immigrants from Europe. The brimstone, however, is a specialist at hibernating and our first sightings in early spring are those that have seen the winter through in hibernation. When at rest the wings have a remarkable resemblance to ivy leaves and it is generally in ivy that they hibernate undetected thanks to this camouflage.

    Brimstone is the old name for sulphur and the male's vivid bright yellow colouring gives rise to the common name. The female is white and is often assumed to be an early large white but, of course, it lacks the black on the wings that the large white has.

    What a lovely sight these butterflies are on a warm spring day; a true joy to behold.



  • Brimstone in Dorset: what your tweets tell us ...

    Post date: Thursday, 11 April, 2019 - 21:20

    There can be few more uplifting moments after a long, dark, winter than to see a bright yellow brimstone butterfly fluttering through your garden; a sure sign that spring has arrived! Well, may be not, as the brimstone hibernates and if there is a sunny, mild day in the depths of winter they will emerge for a while before returning to their 'slumbers' when the weather deteriorates again.  Brimstones are somewhat nomadic and individuals will travel far and wide through parks and gardens, along woodland rides, by hedgerows, almost anywhere there are shrubs and scrub. They are also long-lived for a butterfly and having survived the winter they mate in March and then continue to fly in to May and possibly June. The new generation of butterflies then hatch in late July and August. Whilst the male is bright yellow the female is a pale green, almost white, and are often mistaken for large white's even though they have no black markings on the wings.

    In Dorset the weekly reports chart shows a sighting in January and in February 2018 but it is in March when they start to be seen regularly. There are a number of reports each week from week 7 onwards until week 17 at the end of April. There is then a gap until week 27 at the beginning of July although there is one report from week 20 in 2018. The newly emerging adults are then seen sporadically and in lesser numbers than in spring right through until they are driven back into hibernation for the winter.

    The distribution map shows just how widespread brimstones are with reports from across Dorset but closer examination shows them scarce along the Purbeck coast and along the Fleet; this reflects the absence of woodland type habitats here and the lack of their larval food plant, buckthorn.


Common Name Brimstone
Scientific Name Gonepteryx rhamni
Species Group Pierid Butterflies Whites
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Identification Notes
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Similar Species

The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Notebook Distribution Map Sites List Some Charts Some Photographs Recent Records Guidance Notes

To see related species click here: 

Pierid Butterflies Whites