Steven Cheshire's British Butterflies
British Butterflies: Species: Species Account - The Brimstone:
Gonepteryx rhamni (Linnaeus, 1758)

Brimstone egg.
  Brimstone caterpillar.
  Brimstone chrysalis
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Insecta: Lepidoptera : Family Pieridae: Subfamily Coliadinae : Genus Gonepteryx: Species rhamni:
The larvae of the Brimstone feeds on the leaves of Buckthorn and Alder Buckthorn. The egg is approximately 2.5mm tall and is skittle shaped as are all eggs laid by Butterflies of the Pieridae family. They can be found on fresh leaf growth on the larval food plant during the spring and are easy to find.

The caterpillars feed singularly on the food plant and are easily found lying along the mid-rib of the upperside of a leaf. It is remarkably well camouflaged being the same green as the leaves of its food plant.

The chrysalis is attached by the tail to a stick or branch of the foodplant by silk and a silken thread as a support girdle. The pupal stage lasts around 14 days. The Chrysalis changes colour when the butterfly is about to emerge.

Warm sunny days in early March brings the Brimstone out from hibernation but since it is such a long-lived species butterflies may be seen throughout the year even though there is only one brood per year. The bright rich yellow of the male Brimstone butterfly cannot be confused with any other UK butterfly. The female however is a very pale yellow almost white in colour and can be confused at a distance for a Large White. The distinctive shape of the Brimstone and the intricate veining of the wings make it a remarkably beautiful and graceful butterfly.

The Brimstone is also one of the longest living of British Butterflies and is the only species outside the Nymphalidae family to hibernate as an adult butterfly.

The Brimstone is thought to be the original 'butter-coloured fly'.
The Brimstone is usually found in open areas such as grasslands, woodland rides, gardens and waste places, usually in areas adjacent to woodland, scrub and hedgerows where the larval food plant (Buckthorn sp.) occurs. It is often seen visiting suburban gardens in spring and late summer.

In early spring, the sulphur yellow males become particularly noticeable on warm sunny days as they quickly patrol along hedgerows in search of females awakening from hibernation. However, the moment the sun disappears behind a cloud and the ambient temperature falls, he quickly finds a place to shelter often under a bramble or ivy leaf only to emerge and continue his quest to find a mate the moment the sun reappears.

The pale yellow/white females tend to be more elusive, hiding among thick vegetation. Once she has emerged from hibernation, a male will quickly find and mate with her so her secretive behaviour may help her avoid the attentions of subsequent males seeking a mate. Several days after mating, the female will become more conspicuous as she takes to the air in search of tender shoots of Buckthorn upon which to lay her eggs. Each pale cream shuttle-shaped egg is laid carefully and individually on only the tenderest of new shoots in order to give the emerging caterpillar the best start in life.

Eggs laid in the spring quickly develop into caterpillars before pupating on or near to the larval food plant. By late July to early August, this new generation emerge as adult butterflies. Both the male and female are very active and conspicuous during this time but the sole goal for both male and female is to feed and take on board enough sustenance to see them through the winter hibernation.

Throughout July, August, and September (depending upon how far north or south of Britain you are), Brimstones may be seen feeding in grassy clearings, woodland rides and waste places, most notably on a wide range of Thistle species. During this time, both male and female can be... with care... easily approached and viewed at close quarters as they feed, seemingly oblivious to your presence.

Then, almost without warning, they disappear without a trace, hiding among bramble or ivy leaves. They will not move during this time and become impossible to find, remaining in a state of hibernation until the first warm, sunny spring day of the new year where the cycle begins all over again.

It should be noted that  the Brimstone may venture some distance from its normal habitats, especially during the spring as it is a strong flyer and may travel widely from its larval home in search of a mate.
England and the Welsh borders north to Cleveland and the southern regions of the Lake District.
Where to see the Brimstone in the British Isles
England and the Welsh borders north to Cleveland and the southern regions of the Lake District.
Other notes

Lifecycle chart
Flight chart
The lifecycle and flight charts should be regarded as approximate guides to the Brimstone in Britain. Specific lifecycle states, adult emergence and peak flight times vary from year to year due to variations in weather conditions.
IUCN category status 2010 5   IUCN category status 2007 34
--awaiting data-- --awaiting data--

5Fox, R., Warren, M., Brereton, T. M., Roy, D. B. & Robinson, A.
(2010) A new Red List of British Butterflies. Insect Conservation and Diversity.
Least Concern Least Concern

3Fox, R., Warren, M & Brereton, T.
(2007) New Red List of British Butterflies. Butterfly Conservation, Wareham.

4More information about IUCN categories.
UK status
Larval foodplants
Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) and Alder Buckthorn (Frangula alnus).
British subspecies
Gonepteryx rhamni ssp. gravesi (Huggins, 1956)
Occurs in Ireland only where slight differences in colouration distinguishes it from ssp. rhamni.
Gonepteryx rhamni ssp. rhamni (Linnaeus, 1758)
Occurs in England and Wales but is absent in Ireland.
Butterflies of Britain ID Chart
Your personal guide to British Butterflies. This 8-panel laminated chart is designed for speedy butterfly identification in the field. Ideal for anyone interested in identifying butterflies, perfect for children and adults and ideal for outdoor use, laminated, shower-proof and robust. Get your copy today.
Butterflies of Britain (Laminated ID Chart).
Online store
Visit our online store for many more butterfly related books and gifts.
Population trends 1
UK Population trend 1995-2004 down by -11%
UK Population trend 1976-2004 up by 22%

1Fox, R., Asher. J., Brereton. T., Roy, D & Warren, M. (2006) The State of Butterflies in Britain & Ireland, Pices, Oxford.
UK BAP status 2
UK BAP status not listed (link)

2For information about the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, visit the JNCC web site

National Biodiversity Network Gateway
National Biodiversity Network Gateway Distribution Map

Areas in and indicate a contraction in distribution of the Brimstone except in Ireland where data is only available up until 1999.

* Records shown in outside the natural distribution may be the result of illegal or accidental releases by breeders or, depending upon the species, migrant individuals from mainland Europe.

Key to map*
= 2000 to 2010 inclusive (current distribution)
= records from 1950 to 1999 inclusive
= records from 1900 to 1949 inclusive
Records prior to 1st January 1900 are not shown.

The NBN Gateway records are shown on the map right. (See terms and conditions).

More data is available on the Brimstone on the NBN Gateway web site.
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For full details of books and reports mentioned on this web site, view the references page.

Find out more online*
Brimstone can be found on Peter Eeles excellent UK Butterflies web site.
Brimstone can be found on Matt Rowlings excellent European Butterflies web site.

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Photographs of the Brimstone
Image ID BB2301 - Brimstone - © Debbie Cheshire
Brimstone male (imago)
BB2301 ©
Image ID BB2300 - Brimstone - © Debbie Cheshire
Brimstone male (imago)
BB2300 ©
Image ID BB2214 - Brimstone - © Steven Cheshire
Brimstone male (imago)
BB2214 ©
Image ID BB2213 - Brimstone - © Steven Cheshire
Brimstone male (imago)
BB2213 ©
Image ID BB2212 - Brimstone - © Steven Cheshire
Brimstone female (imago)
BB2212 ©
Image ID BB1871 - Brimstone - © Steven Cheshire
Brimstone female (imago)
BB1871 ©
Image ID BB1870 - Brimstone - © Steven Cheshire
Brimstone male (imago)
BB1870 ©
Image ID BB1869 - Brimstone - © Steven Cheshire
Brimstone male (imago)
BB1869 ©
Image ID BB1660 - Brimstone - © Debbie Cheshire
Brimstone male (imago)
BB1660 ©
Image ID BB949 - Brimstone - © Steven Cheshire
Brimstone male (imago)
BB949 ©
There are 22 photographs of the Brimstone in our stock photo library.
View more photographs of the Brimstone as a thumbnail gallery or as a slideshow.
Aberrations and forms
There are 4 named aberrant forms of the Brimstone currently listed. Find out more about aberrants here.

ab. decora - Oberthür 1909
ab. fervida - Fritsch 1911
ab. flavescens - Lempke 1936
ab. hoefnageli - Bryk 1922