Home / Whites and Sulphurs (Pieridae) / Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni)

Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni)

The Brimstone Butterfly is not just any butterfly; it’s a fascinating species that paints our world with strokes of butter-yellow and hints of spring green. This medium-sized butterfly is celebrated not only for its beauty but for its unique adaptations that have enabled it to thrive across the tropical and temperate regions of the globe. With its name believed to be the etymological root of “butterfly,” the Brimstone Butterfly stands as a testament to the marvels of nature, showcasing an incredible blend of mimicry, camouflage, and vibrant life stages.

Brimstone Butterfly

Scientific Classification

  • Family: Pierida
  • Genus: Gonepteryx
  • Common names: Common Brimstone
  • Scientific Name: Gonepteryx rhamni


Widely distributed across Europe, Asia, and northern Africa, the Brimstone Butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni) is a species that captivates with its simple yet elegant appearance and intriguing life cycle. Known for their longevity and distinct flight patterns, these butterflies play a crucial role in their ecosystems, serving as pollinators and indicators of environmental health. Their lifecycle, from egg to adult, is a journey of transformation, marked by unique adaptations and behaviors that ensure their survival and propagation.

Description and Identification

Brimstone Butterfly CaterpillarCaterpillar

The journey of the Brimstone Butterfly begins with the caterpillar hatching from the egg and immediately making its way to the top of leaves to feed. Measuring just 1.7 mm at birth and growing up to 34.9 mm, these green larvae with tiny white hairs and dark markings are masters of camouflage, blending seamlessly with their surroundings to evade predators.

Brimstone Butterfly PupaPupa

The chrysalis stage is equally fascinating, with the pupa measuring between 22.2 to 23.8 mm and adopting a green hue that mimics a curled leaf. This camouflage is crucial for its survival during this vulnerable stage. As they transition into adulthood, males exhibit a change in coloration, signaling their imminent emergence.

Adult Butterfly

Sexual Dimorphism: The adult Brimstone shows clear sexual dimorphism. Males boast sulfur to cream-yellow wings, while females are distinguished by their white wings with a subtle greenish tinge.

Color and Appearance: The wings of the Brimstone Butterfly are almost solid in color, with both sexes sporting a tiny orange central blotch on each wing, mimicking fungal spots on leaves.

Common BrimstoneGonepteryx RhamniAverage Wingspan: Their wingspan ranges between 5.2 to 6 cm (2.0 – 2.3 in), allowing for a fast and erratic flight pattern.

Flight Pattern: The Brimstone’s flight is characterized by short, rapid bursts, making them a delightful sight in motion.

Brimstone Butterfly EggsEggs

The spindle-shaped eggs are laid on the underside of buckthorn leaves, changing color from greenish-white to dark yellow, and finally to brown before hatching, indicating the lifecycle’s progression.

Quick Facts

DistributionFound across Europe, Asia, and northern parts of Africa.
HabitatThrives in open and damp woodlands, scrub, and hedgerows.
Lifespan of AdultsRemarkably long, ranging from 10 to 13 months.
Host PlantsFavors common buckthorn and alder buckthorn.
Adult DietIncludes pollen, flower nectar, and ripe or rotting fruits.

How to Identify Brimstone Butterfly?

Identifying a Brimstone Butterfly in the wild involves looking for its distinctive yellow or white wings, depending on the sex, and the unique orange blotch on each wing. Observers should also note the environment, as Brimstones prefer open, damp woodlands and areas with abundant buckthorn, their primary host plant. During flight, their erratic and fast patterns are unmistakable. Additionally, the time of year can be a clue; Brimstones are among the first butterflies to emerge in spring, symbolizing the arrival of the season.

Did You Know?

  • The Brimstone Butterfly’s name is derived from “brimstone,” an archaic word for sulfur, alluding to its vibrant yellow color.
  • With a lifespan extending up to 13 months, it outlives many other butterfly species.
  • This species is fully protected under the Northern Ireland 1985 Wildlife Order, highlighting its ecological importance.
  • The characteristic hole-patterns left on leaves by the caterpillars serve as a unique identifier of their presence.


The Brimstone Butterfly is a marvel of nature, embodying beauty, resilience, and ecological significance. Through each stage of its lifecycle, it showcases remarkable adaptations that ensure its survival and prosperity. As a symbol of spring and a vital part of its ecosystem, the Brimstone Butterfly reminds us of the intricate connections within nature and the importance of conserving these beautiful creatures for future generations to marvel at and learn from.

Brimstone Butterfly Pictures

Brimstone Butterfly PhotosBrimstone Butterfly PicturesThe Brimstone ButterflyBrimstone Butterfly ImagesYellow Brimstone Butterfly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scientific Classification

  • Family: Pierida
  • Genus: Gonepteryx
  • Common names: Common Brimstone
  • Scientific Name: Gonepteryx rhamni
Published by Avatar on July 30, 2018.
Last Updated: February 25, 2024. ✅ Verified by: Butterfly Team