Tag Archive: Cryptic Wood White

With all the buzz about the new butterfly on the block, I looked back and réalised (ha ha) that my original post about the Wood White research had been a bit academical.

So here’s a simple explanation of the three butterflies that concern British and Irish readers.

  • The Wood White Leptidea sinapis is found in woods in England and in the Burren region of County Clare, Ireland.
  • The Cryptic Wood White Leptidea juvernica  is widespread in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, outside the Burren.
  • Réal’s Wood White Leptidea reali is not found in the British Isles.
  • All three can be found across Europe, along with other similar species.

All three look identical in the field. It’s a good thing that these butterflies are seldom found in the same place (as far as we know), because distribution is the only way to tell them apart, without cutting up their genitals or doing DNA analysis.

Patrick Barkham, author of The Butterfly Isles which chronicles his successful attempt to find all 59 British butterflies in a the year 2009, has written a great article for the Guardian:



UPDATE 20JUL11: With the start of the Big Butterfly Count on 16 July, the discovery of the Cryptic Wood White (which looks identical to the ‘English’ and Réal’s Wood White) has been officially announced. The major news organisations have published articles on it – Patrick Barkham’s is especially good:


My original article begins here:

A bit of background: we have two species of Wood White butterfly in Ireland: the wimpy Wood White in the Burren, and Réal’s Wood White everywhere else.

Or so we thought.

Research published this year shows that the Réal’s Wood White butterfly Leptidea reali (found in Europe and Ireland) is actually two cryptic species, reali and juvernica.



Now, the Dublin Naturalists’ Field Club has posted a web page explaining the history of the Wood Whites in Ireland and declaring that:

“the species that occurs outside the ‘Burren’ in Ireland is now to be known as Leptidea juvernica,  the Cryptic Wood White or Bánóg duaithne choille.”


Nothing has changed in real terms (excuse the pun!) – it’s not an exotic immigrant and the butterflies don’t even know they’ve got a new name – but it’s exciting nonetheless!

(Personally, I’d have preferred the “Irish Wood White” but as it’s found across Europe to Russia I bow to the professionals!)

So, in summary, Réal’s Wood White is no longer considered an Irish butterfly, and the Cryptic Wood White is.