Cleopatra Butterfly - Gonepteryx cleopatra

Gonepteryx cleopatra (female)

Taxonomy

Phylum: Arthropoda

Class: Insecta

Order: Lepidoptera

Family: Pieridae

Subfamily: Coliadinae

The Cleopatra butterfly is arguably the most beautiful of the Pieridae 'whites'.

The female Cleopatra shown opposite left and the male, seen below left, were photographed in the Algarve region of Portugal.The forewings of the male Cleopatra are suffused with orange on the upper surface, and the orange colouring shows through to an extent on the underwing.

Gonepteryx cleopatra (male)

The raised veins on the undersides of this and other Gonepteryx species give them the appearance of a leaf when they are at rest. (The wings are invariably closed when the butterfly is at rest.) These fairly large and impressive butterflies have a wingspan ranging from 5 to 7cm. The males are on average a bit smaller than the females.

(Pictures above and left: Rob Petley-Jones)

Distribution

Not breeding in Britain, Cleopatra is rarely recorded even as a vagrant other than in the Channel Islands.

On mainland Europe, Cleopatras are found in the southern countries - Portugal, Spain, the south of France and across the Mediterranean through Italy, Greece and Turkey. To the south its range extends into northern Africa, where Cleopatras are found in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. This lovely butterfly is also known to occur in some countries of the Middle East.

Gonepteryx cleopatra, Fonte da Benemol, Algarve, Portugal

Lifecycle

Generally having just a single brood, the newly-emerged adults can be seen from May through until early August or September, when they hibernate until the following March.

The larval foodplants are various kinds of buckthorns, Rhamnus species.

Eggs and chrysalises of the Cleopatra are pale green, while the shortly hairy caterpillars are a bolder green with a pale stripe along each side.

Studying butterflies and moths...