Inspection of the Unique Cabbage White Butterfly

A Cabbage white butterfly, also known as Small white, or White butterfly, is a butterfly that lives in Europe, North America, and New Zealand. This butterfly is known as a minor pest, and it attacks broccoli, cauliflower, and other cabbage family plants. 

Cabbage white species summary

Scientific NamePieris rapae
Family NamePieridae
HabitatAny open area with diverse plant species
RangeEurope, North Africa, North America, New Zealand
Host PlantsCabbages and various other cultivated plants
Butterfly DescriptionTiny, white, with faint black dots on forewings
Caterpillar DescriptionGreen, with thin yellow stripes on the sides

Butterfly Physical Description

Cabbage white butterfly on a flower
Cabbage white butterfly on a flower

There is an evident sexual dimorphism among the White cabbage butterflies. The ventral side of their closed wings displays some yellowish hues with faint black dots on the surface. Female butterflies have pale yellow dorsal sides of wings and 2 black spots on each of the wings, close to the central part.

The male butterflies’ dorsal sides are more creamy-white, with one black spot on each wing. Each black spot sits on the central part of each forewing. The Cabbage white butterfly’s total wingspan can measure from 2 to 3 inches.

How many types of Cabbage white butterflies are there?

There are 2 species of Cabbage butterflies:

  1. Small cabbage butterfly (Pieris rapae), which is imported, also called the Cabbageworm, while in the caterpillar stage
  2. Large cabbage white (Pieris brassicae), a close relative of the Small one, common in Africa, Europe, and Asia

Caterpillar Physical Description

Cabbage white caterpillar
Cabbage white caterpillar

The Cabbage white caterpillar is also called an Imported cabbageworm. The matured instar is bright green, with a yellow line on its dorsal side, similar to the newly-hatched larva that’s slightly darker green. It has a set of small black bands along the spiracles. In some cases, a black ring is also present.

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Aside from these, yellow lines are found along the middle part of the thorax, on its dorsal side. This combination of colors and patterns makes the Cabbage white caterpillar invisible when it crawls over the leaves, thus protecting it from potential predators that may prey on it.

The Imported cabbageworm measures about 1 to 2 inches. Once it becomes a pupa, the green shade turns into a pale version of its former green shade with hints of light brown along the length of the chrysalis.

What’s in the name?

These butterflies got their name from their main source of food — the cabbages. If you are planting cabbages, also plant some nasturtiums beside them to deter the butterflies and help them lay their eggs on the other plant instead.

Habitat and distribution

This butterfly species is considered a habitat generalist. Like the other butterfly species, Cabbage white butterflies tend to frequent open spaces, such as:

  • Suburbs
  • Cities
  • Roadsides 
  • Meadows
  • Cultivated areas
  • Weedy spots
  • Human-made gardens

The White cabbage butterflies live in North America, New Zealand, and Europe. However, there are also sightings in North Africa.

Host Plants

Aside from medium-sized cabbages, the female butterfly will lay eggs on various cultivated vegetables like those classified under the mustard family (Brassicaceae) and other plants under the cabbage family.

Are cabbage white butterflies pests?

Because of the caterpillar’s feeding habits, it’s a pest in numerous countries. This larva will eat anything cabbage-related, so many small gardeners may face issues. The best way to keep the butterflies away from the garden is to use products that contain Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt).

What does a cabbage white butterfly eat?

Cabbageworm eats the following plants:

  • Broccolis
  • Kales
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Horseradishes
  • Cauliflowers
  • Radishes

On the other hand, adults like yellow, blue, and purple flowers (such as Asters). They use their compound eyes to see the ultraviolet markings on some flowers, such as the Brassica rapa. This is particularly helpful when they are on a foraging spree.

Usual behavior of the cabbage white butterfly

Small Cabbage white caterpillars tend to have a greater appetite than other species of larvae. Aside from eating the leaf where their eggs were once attached, they eat most eggshells. 

They then make multiple holes in the inner parts of the Cabbage and feed on the adjacent young sprouts. Their feeding instinct requires them to consume a steady supply of nitrogen, which is essential for faster growth and development.

White cabbage caterpillars and butterflies are considered hardy creatures. They usually survive overwintering in larval form and can survive the early spring season up to the first few frosty signs of autumn/winter.

Female adult butterflies like to lay their eggs on the underside of the leaf of isolated host plants. Unlike other butterfly species, the number of eggs they lay is inconsistent and will depend on the host plant’s size.

They will lay fewer eggs on the host plant when they see that it is relatively small. This is to reduce nutrient exhaustion and utilize the plant in the best possible way.

These females also like to display a foreleg behavior known as “drumming.” They rapidly move their forelegs against the leaf’s surface where they are about to lay their eggs as if testing the surface for stability.


Some of the animals that prey on White cabbage butterflies are:

  • Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)
  • Bracconid wasp (Cotesia glomerata and Cotesia rubecula)
  • Pteromalid wasp (Pteromalus puparum)
  • House sparrow (Passer domesticus)
  • Fly (Epicampocera succinata and Phryxe vulgaris)
  • Skylark (Alauda arvensis)

What do these butterflies symbolize?

These butterflies symbolize hope and good luck to those who see them. Some cultures believe that these butterflies represent the souls of their departed loved ones. In general, white butterflies symbolize good events.

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