What is that yellow butterfly?

what is that yellow butterfly

What is that yellow butterfly?

Hello! Have you noticed any flashes of bright yellow fluttering around the ivy yet? This spring, we have seen many of these bright yellow butterflies and since my daughter demanded to know their name, I thought I would share it with you too. So, are you ready to learn more and find out – what is that yellow butterfly? Then, lets get started!

Our most common yellow and white butterflies

Here in Ireland and the British Isles, there are five main butterflies that might make you stop and think, ‘hmmm, what is that yellow butterfly?’.

When compared side by side, two of them are actually, pale yellow, one of them is yellow- green, one of them is decidedly yellow and the last one is definitely a very bright, unmistakable yellow.

This butterfly is a male brimstone and once you have spotted one,  you will never call the other butterflies ‘yellow’ again. But, who are these yellow and not-so-yellow butterflies. And more importantly, how do you tell them apart from each other?

Well, they are the:

  • Small white
  • Large white
  • Green-veined white
  • Clouded yellow
  • Brimstone
Let’s take a look at them…

Which are our two palest yellow butterflies?

Out of our list of five, the two palest yellow butterflies, are the small white and the large white. Both often given the generic name of ‘cabbage white’ (because of their love for gardeners’ brassicas.)

As the names suggest, small whites are the smallest of the two butterflies and large whites are the largest. They both have creamy or pale yellow coloured underwings (seen when their wings are held upwards while resting), that are actually bright white on top.

The way to tell small white and large white butterflies apart is to look at the markings on the upper surfaces of their wings. The small white has little black tips and one to two black spots on its forewings. While the large white has a much wider, lunar crescent of black at its wing tips (and larger spots).

identifying small white and large white butterflies

What is that yellow-green butterfly?

Next, let’s meet our yellow-ish green looking butterfly – the green-veined white. At first glance, with its wing out-spread, the green-veined white looks remarkably like the small and large whites, with bright white wing surfaces, a dark wing tip and a one or two dark spots.

But, once you pay attention, you will notice its wings look a lot more grainy. This graininess comes from its veins. The green-veined white, as per its name, has greenish-grey coloured wing veins.

Once it holds its wings closed though, these veins become even more prominent, being a much darker green underneath… and, the bright white of the surface gives way to a decidedly creamy-greeny-yellow colour.

identifying the green-veined white butterfly

What is that orange-yellow butterfly?

So, having met our palest-yellow and greenish-yellow butterflies, it is time to meet our orangey-yellow butterfly. The clouded yellow butterfly. This butterfly is migratory and comes and goes, sometimes in mass migrations.

At a glance, with its wings open, it could be mistaken for a painted lady or gatekeeper. Since, unlike the whites we have met above, the upper surface of this butterfly’s wings are orange with a wide black margin running all around.
However, as soon as it closes its wings, it looks decidedly yellow (and a lot like our brimstone) but for a few little details… the wings of the clouded yellow butterfly are traced in a lovely pinky-orange colour and have an obvious white, pinkish-rimmed eye (as well as actual, beautiful bright green eyes!).
identifying a clouded yellow butterfly

What is that bright yellow butterfly?

Finally, we have arrived at our bright yellow, definitely yellow butterfly – the brimstone. Although it can also look a bit green in colour, once this butterfly (especially the male), dances into the sun, it shows itself in all its glory. A little sunbeam of butter (supposedly responsible for putting butter into butterfly!)
 The brimstone has pointed, leaf-shape wings with a light brown or orange spot in the middle of each wing. This design is the same for both the upper and under surfaces of the wings, making them not just easy to spot, but also easy to identify.
So, the next time you see a flash of sunlight dancing past and think, ‘Oh, look! What is that yellow butterfly?’ I hope this post has now given you a nice, easy way to identify it?
what is that bright yellow butterfly


Well, we have reached the end of this little tutorial on how to identify our most common yellow butterflies. I hope you have both enjoyed it and found it useful? If you would love to read more of my really easy nature walk tutorials, feel free to subscribe below x

P.S. Looking for field guides? Check these out.

Disclaimer: Please note, these guides are Amazon affiliate links, so I may recieve a small commission if you choose to purchase any item. This will not affect the price you pay, but it will help me keep this site going x

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