Meet Pieris Brassicae: Large Cabbage White Butterfly

A Large cabbage white butterfly, a close relative of the Small white butterfly, lives in Europe and is unique for its black dots on white wings and black wingtips.

Large Cabbage White Butterfly Species Summary

Scientific NamePieris brassicae
Family NamePieridae
HabitatFarms, parks, gardens, grasslands, tree trunks, meadows
RangeEurope, Asia, South Africa
Host PlantsCruciferous plants, brussels sprouts, nasturtium, thistles
Butterfly DescriptionWhite, with black dots on forewings and black wingtips
Caterpillar DescriptionWhite as soon as it hatches, goes through 5 instars

Butterfly Description

Pieris Brassicae
Pieris Brassicae

The Large cabbage white butterfly is also known as the Large white butterfly, Summer snowflake, or Large white. This butterfly’s wingspan can reach more than 2.5 inches (6.35 cm) and is among larger butterflies.

This butterfly species has large white wings with black tips on the forewings. This black spot somewhat extends to the medial side, along the costal areas.

The female adult butterflies have two dark spots on the forewings — the males don’t have any. As for the ventral side, the base color is creamy white with two black markings. It’s very similar to Small cabbage white butterfly.

Caterpillar’s Instars Described

The Large cabbage caterpillar is white as soon as it hatches from the egg. It goes through 5 instars. The first change occurs after a few hours when it turns a pale yellow shade with a soft body and a brown head.

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It has white hairs protruding from its thorax during this stage. When it transitions to the next stage and undergoes molting, the tubercles have black hair covering the entire body length.

The next time it molts (third brood), the larva becomes a large white lump with increased feeding activities. It will eventually turn a brighter shade of yellow than the first instar that it will carry over to the fourth instar, but with black dots peppering the entire thorax.

The fifth larval stage has the same color scheme on the upper side and a brighter thorax and abdomen. The caterpillar has a black or gray head before transitioning to the pupa or chrysalis stage.

Habitat and Range

The Large cabbage white butterfly thrives in large open spaces, grasslands, vegetable gardens, agricultural lands, and farms. It’s widespread in allotments intended for cabbage and other Brassicaceae plants. Other ideal Large cabbage white butterfly habitats include:

  • Hedgerows
  • Fences
  • Parks
  • Spots with moist and cool climates
  • Meadows
  • Tree trunks

When it comes to distribution, these butterflies migrate. This is why they’re seen in all parts of the world. Large cabbage white is present in Europe (Britain, British Isles, Ireland), Asia (Himalayas), and South Africa.

Host Plants

The female adult Large cabbage white butterflies lay their eggs and brood on the cruciferous plants, brussels sprouts, nasturtium, and thistles. Other host plants include:

  • Wild mignonette
  • Cabbages
  • Sea-kale
  • Buddleia
  • Oil-seed rape


Pieris Brassicae
Pieris Brassicae

Caterpillars eat the host plants. The adult butterflies feed on the flower nectar of bluebell, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, thistles, cabbage, turnip, kohlrabi, and radishes.

They’ll also munch on knapweeds, bugle, ragworts, butterfly bush, wild marjoram, and dandelions. Other common food plants include:

  • Ragged-robin
  • Common fleabane
  • Devil’s-bit scabious
  • Field scabious
  • Swede
  • Wild teasel
  • Hemp-agrimony

How does large cabbage white pick food plants?

Unlike other butterfly species, the Large cabbage white butterfly relies on its past experiences to determine which food plants are the best.

The duration of exposure to particular host plants is one factor. Then, there’s the number of host plants in the area paired with the level of predator threats. These are some key factors affecting the butterfly’s future food preferences.

How do these butterflies breed?

Females can have more than one preferred partner if they wish to. However, many still prefer monogamy.

Adult females usually lay their eggs in large clusters and go for the undersides of the leaves to protect the eggs from threats. The butterfly uses the tip of its abdomen to place the eggs in the desired spot. The females prefer predominantly green plants as their sites for oviposition. 

Common Predators

Similar to other butterfly species, the Large cabbage white butterflies have these animals and insects as their natural enemies:

  • Diptera
  • Coleoptera
  • Wasps
  • Birds
  • Small mammals
  • Hemiptera
  • Hymenoptera

Is this butterfly considered a pest?

All cabbage butterflies are considered pests, including Large cabbage white. However, it’s not the adults that cause damage to plants. Caterpillars are the common culprit for defoliation, especially if an infestation occurs. Netting is one of the usual prevention methods, as it stops adults from laying eggs in protected plants.

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