The Cabbage White Butterfly refers to two sibling species known as the Small White and Large White butterflies. Both these species belong to the Pieridae family. They are found in places like Europe, Africa, Asia and America. Their common names include Cabbage Butterfly and Cabbage White.
Here is a general description of these butterfly species.
Small White Butterfly (Pieris rapae) Description
The butterflies of this species have a beautiful appearance:
Color: The upper sides of their bodies are creamy white in color, with the forewings having black tips. The forewings of the females have a black spot in the center. They have yellowish underwings marked with black patches.
Wingspan: The adults have a wingspan of 32 mm to 47 mm (1.25 to 2 inches).
Large White Butterfly (Pieris brassicae) Description
It looks like a larger version of the Small Cabbage White Butterfly.
Color: The white forewings of this species are tipped with black. Like the Small White, the female Large White Butterflies have a black spot on each forewing. Their upper sides are creamy white while the undersides are pale green. Wingspan: Their wingspan ranges from 5 cm to 6.5 cm.
Picture 1 – Cabbage White Butterfly
Both the Small and Large White butterflies are found throughout the world.
Small White Butterfly (Pieris rapae) Distribution
The natural distribution range of this species includes North Africa, Europe and Asia. Later they spread in other areas such as Canada, United States and Australia.
Large White Butterfly (Pieris brassicae) Distribution
They are commonly found in Asia, Europe, North Africa and South Africa. This species is often found in various regions of the Himalayan Mountain Range. Large White Butterflies have also established populations in the United States.
The butterflies of these two species are found in similar types of habitats.
Small White Butterfly (Pieris rapae) Habitat
It is found in almost any kind of habitat, but they prefer gardens and fields of Brassica. This butterfly is also found in Rape seed fields as well as in sheltered places like hedgerows and the edges of coniferous woods.
Large White Butterfly (Pieris brassicae) Habitat
This migrating butterfly species mainly inhabits gardens and Brassica fields. Like the Small White ones, they also live in fields of Rape seed. Pieris brassicae are found on mountain tops as well.
The food habits of these butterflies are quite alike.
Small White Butterfly (Pieris rapae) Diet
They mainly feed on plants from the Brassica genus such as Nasturtium and Cabbages. But, the Large Cabbage White Butterflies also eat Garlic Mustard, Wild Cabbage, Charlock, Wild Mignonette, Hoary Cress Hedge Mustard etc.
Picture 2 – Cabbage White Butterfly Image
Large White Butterfly (Pieris brassicae) Diet
The larvae of this species feed on various plants form the Cruciferae family as well as various Brassica oleracea plants like Cabbages and Brussels-sprouts. The adult butterflies also eat different plants from the Brassica genus. Both the adults and the larvae like to consume Rape seeds.
These invertebrates have some interesting behavior patterns.
Small White Butterfly (Pieris rapae) Behavior
Here are some of the main behavioral patterns of this species:
Adult Small Cabbage White Butterflies are diurnal in nature, being active during daytime.
They like to fly all day.
These butterflies do not fly during dawn and evening.
Sometimes, their activity increases late in night.
They may migrate during winter.
Their caterpillars tend to rest on the lower surface of leaves.
Large White Butterfly (Pieris brassicae) Behavior
Find out about some of their main behaviors:
The adults are diurnal in nature.
They are most active in high temperatures.
These butterflies remain hidden under leaves with their forewings kept out of sight during cold days.
Sometimes, they take part in mass migration.
The Small and Large White Butterflies and their caterpillars have several predators.
Small White Butterfly (Pieris rapae) Predators
Various birds, lizards and large invertebrates are known to prey on the adults of this species. Birds also feed on the caterpillars.
Large White Butterfly (Pieris brassicae) Predators
Newly hatched caterpillars are frequently attacked by the females of some parasitic wasp species. Predators of the adult Large White Butterflies include different lizards, birds and invertebrates.
Picture 3 – Cabbage White Butterfly Caterpiller
Find out about the adaptive features of these butterflies.
Small White Butterfly (Pieris rapae) Adaptations
The inconspicuous coloration of the adult butterflies can be considered to be a useful adaptive feature. It helps them to blend into the background and avoid being preyed on. The green bodies of the caterpillars make it hard for predators to find them.
Large White Butterfly (Pieris brassicae) Adaptations
The undersides of their bodies are pale green in color, serving as a good camouflage. The larvae of Large White Butterflies secrete some kind of chemicals that make them distasteful to various predators.
They reproduce by laying eggs on the leaves of the host plants.
Small White Butterfly (Pieris rapae) Reproduction
Mating takes place around mid-day. The females lay eggs on cultivated cabbages, radish, kale, horseradish, broccoli as well as some wild cabbage plants. The Small Cabbage White Butterfly eggs are laid singly on the leaves of the host plants.
Large White Butterfly (Pieris brassicae) Reproduction
The Large Cabbage White Butterfly mates during flight. Females lay the eggs on the undersurface of the host plant’s leaves. Each cluster contains 20 to 50 yellow eggs. Their host plants include cabbage, cauliflower, turnip, red cabbage and radish.
Both these butterfly species can have 2 to 3 broods each year.
Small White Butterfly (Pieris rapae) Life Cycle
The caterpillars or larvae of this species eat the leaves of their host plants after hatching. Small Cabbage White Butterfly larvae are light green in color with their bodies covered in small hairs. These caterpillars pupate between August and September. Pupae are approximately 15 mm long with a hard external shell. The pupae hibernate on the host plants during winter.
Large White Butterfly (Pieris brassicae) Life Cycle
The larvae of this species live in groups and feed on the leaf epidermis of the host plants. They scatter into smaller groups of 4 to 5 individuals after their second molt. At this stage, the Large Cabbage White larvae voraciously eat the host plant leaves as they require plenty of food. They spend the winter as pale yellowish green chrysalises. The pupation stage lasts for 10 to 15 days. Juvenile butterflies of the first brood emerge from pupa and start flying in May.
The lifespan of the Small and Large White Butterflies is unknown in the wild.
The Pieris rapae or Small White Butterfly has several subspecies including:
P. r. rapae (Europe)
P. r. crucivora (Asia)
P. r. atomaria
P. r. eumorpha
P. r. leucosoma
P. r. mauretanica
P. r. napi
P. r. novangliae
The Pieris rapae and the Pieris brassicae are included in the “Least Concern” category by the IUCN.
Here are some interesting facts about these two beautiful butterfly species:
The Small White or Pieris is among the most winter-hardy of all non-hibernating butterfly species.
The summer broods of Large White or Pieris brassicae generally have darker markings.
The chemicals secreted by the Pieris brassicae larvae were once believed to be mustard oil from the glucosinolates present in the food plants.
Both these butterflies are often mistaken for moths for their plain coloration.
Their population in Great Britain is increasing due to migration.
Their pupae are considered to be pests as they harm the host vegetation plants.
Here are some images of these two butterfly species.