Cabbage White Butterfly
Pieris rapae

How did it get here?Cabbage Butterfly Range Map

The cabbage white traveled from Europe to Quebec, Canada in 1860 on cargo ships. It is now one of the most widespread and common butterflies in North America.

 

How to spot

Look for cabbage white butterflies and their larvae spring through summer, beginning in March. The butterfly is small and white, about 1¾ inches to 2¼ inches from wingtip to wingtip. The fore wing has a black tip, with one spot in male and two spots in females. The undersides of the wings are yellow-green or gray-green. Cabbage White Butterfly

The butterfly has a bouncing, fluttery, or floating flight and often feeds on the nectar of garden flowers. The caterpillar (larval stage of the butterfly) is about 1 inch long. It is fuzzy and green with a broken yellow line on each side and a yellow line on its back. It responds sluggishly if disturbed. Look for eggs and caterpillars on cabbage or broccoli plants.

Habitat characteristics

Pieris rapae is found almost everywhere: cities, suburbs, gardens, roadsides, marshes, and open, weedy areas.

Life Cycle

Cabbage White CaterpillarAdults emerge as early as March and lay eggs on the undersides of leaves. The yellow eggs are rocket-shaped and ridged. They hatch in three to seven days. The caterpillar feeds on its host plant for two weeks before attaching to a leaf and pupating in a ¾-inch pale-green chrysalis. The butterfly emerges in one to two weeks. Five generations of butterflies are produced each growing season.

Look-alikes and how to distinguish

• Checkered white (Pontia protodice)—checkered front wing; underside of hind wing plain white or patterned.
• Mustard white (Pieris napi)—completely white with no spots; veins outlined in gray or green visible on underside of hind wing.
• West Virginia white (Pieris virginiensis)—rounded fore wing; hind-wing veins on underside outlined in brown or gray-brown.

Why is this insect a problem?

Cabbage worm damageThe cabbage white caterpillar eats vegetable crops, including cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, and the leafy tops of turnips, radishes, and rutabagas.
May outcompete native species of white butterflies that feed on wild mustards.

Management approaches

Other resources

Web Sites

University of Georgia Entomology
Fact sheet

University of Illinois Extension
Fact sheet

Literature

Opler, Paul. 1998. A field guide to eastern butterflies. Peterson Field Guide Series. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Pyle, Robert Michael. 1995. Field guide to North American butterflies. National Audubon Society Field Guide Series. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

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