Butterflies of Europe
Family - PIERIDAE
subfamily - PIERINAE
Tribe - PIERINI
Krasno Polje, Velebit mountains, Croatia
© Peter Bruce-Jones
There are 30
species of Aporia, the majority of
which are limited to Tibet, Mongolia and China.
Aporia crataegi is by far the commonest
and most widespread member of the genus, being found from Spain and
North Africa, across Europe and temperate Asia to Kamchatka and
Whites were also once common in southern England, where there were
at least 50 resident colonies, reinforced by regular immigrations
from Europe. In the early 1920s however the butterflies suddenly
disappeared. Various theories for the extinction were put forward,
including unsuitably mild winters, parasitism, bird predation and
the use of herbicides in orchards, but the real explanation remains
unknown, and despite several attempted reintroductions the species
has failed to re-establish itself in Britain.
Ravni Dabar, Velebit mountains, Croatia
© Peter Bruce-Jones
This species is found on scrubby grassland, along roadsides, around
woodland and field edges, in sub-alpine woodland / hay meadow
mosaics and other open habitats where the foodplants grow. It tends
to be most abundant in drier habitats, and can be found at
elevations between sea level and about 1600m.
The eggs are laid in batches of between 50-200 on the underside of
leaves of blackthorn bushes Prunus spinosa
more rarely on hawthorn Crataegus (
They are spindle-shaped, with numerous vertical ribs, and bright
yellow in colour.
The caterpillars hatch in July, feed for a while, and enter
hibernation in September. They awaken and resume feeding in March or
April. Throughout the early instars they live within a communal web of
silk, spun on the foodplant. As they grow they split into smaller
groups and spin new webs, continuing their gregarious existence until
the final instar when they split up and become solitary.
When fully grown the caterpillar is sparsely covered in soft hairs,
and is black above, with orange-brown subdorsal stripes. The lower
half of the body is off-white.
The chrysalis is attached vertically by the cremaster and a silken
girdle to a twig or branch, on or near the foodplant. It is white,
heavily suffused with yellow, with black streaks on the thorax and
wing cases, and black spots all over the abdomen.
The adults fly from May to early August.
Meribel les Allues, la Vanoise, France ©
Both sexes nectar at a wide variety of flowers including ox-eye
daisies, scabious, thistles, clovers,
vipers bugloss, self-heal, valerian, lavender and various vetches.
Males commonly visit sources of mineral-rich moisture such as
urine-tainted soil, dung, and the edges of shallow stagnant pools. In
Siberia the butterflies often aggregate in thousands to drink at the
edges of shallow streams.
I have not observed the courtship, but have often found copulated
pairs late in the morning, sitting on flowerheads. The butterflies are
quite nervous - if disturbed while mating they take flight, with the
male carrying the female. They usually resettle a short distance away
on another flower head.
It is interesting to note the roosting behaviour of this species. In
Provence e.g. I visited a meadow on a warm sunny day in August when
hundreds of crataegi could be seen
flying. The next morning however saw a dramatic change in the weather
- the wind direction changed, funnelling the freezing gale-force winds
of the Mistral through the valley. I visited the meadow again, hardly
expecting to be able to find a single butterfly, but was amazed to
discover that almost every flower-head held a cluster of 3 or 4
Black-veined Whites, each clinging desperately to their plant, where
they remained until the winds dropped and temperatures rose again late
in the afternoon.