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Male Great Orange Tip nectaring on Jasmine
The largest white butterfly in the island. Wingspan of 85-95 mm. The upper side of both sexes is creamy white; the apex of the forewing is bright orange. The under side is straw colored with very fine markings that resemble the veins of a senescing leaf. In the female, the upper side hind wing has small black triangular markings at the ends of the veins and a corresponding black spot immediately above them.
Status, distribution and habitat
Essentially a butterfly of the dry and intermediate zones of the island and most abundant during the north-east monsoons, though a few may be seen throughout the year. It is uncommon in the hills or the wet zone. Single specimens may be seen in the highest hills, but these are probably migrating. The females are far less abundant and more retiring than the males and stay within the forest.
This is the fastest 'White' butterfly on the wing in the island. Its powerful muscles take it through the air in great leaps and bounds with effortless ease and it is capable of covering great distances in a single day. A characteristic feature about its flight is the abrupt and almost instant change of flight direction at the beginning of its power stroke, making any predictions as to where it is heading somewhat tricky. The power stoke is usually followed by a long fast glide. The only other butterfly with a similar flight is the Lemon Emigrant, but its flight is not as strong.
It seldom spends much time near the ground but moves about a great deal among the tree tops. However, when it does decide to descend to nectar on low growing shrubs and vines such as Lantana and Musenda, it does so in great swoops. With a few bouncy moves, it will settle on a flower, nectar for a fleeting moment, and then be gone, over the tree tops and out of sight. While feeding on nectar, it keeps its wings closed, particularly the female. In doing so, it remains well camouflaged as a senescing leaf, which its underside resembles. It is a somewhat wary butterfly, difficult to approach closely, as it takes to the air at any suspicion of danger. The males sometimes congregate in numbers on drying up river beds during the dry season. Here too, they are quite well camouflaged.
The larvae feed on Crataeva religiosa, Capparis moonii, Capparis roxburghii and Capapris sepiaria.
The eggs are laid on the upper side of the leaves, the females sweeping down to get the job done very quickly before flying away to another leaf or plant. The eggs are usually laid on leaves at or near ground level. The larvae are a uniform dark green and finely speckled on the dorsal surface - this greatly enhances their camouflage as it sits on the upper surface of leaves along the midrib. If agitated or pecked, the larva swiftly rears up to reveal a snake-like head that scares away the potential predator.
Great Orange Tip larva on Capparis roxburgii
Larva on Capparis roxburgii. If not agitated, the
body rests flatly on the leaf and is quite well concealed.
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