Pieris rapae - female Pieris rapae                     Family: Pieridae
(PEE-err-iss  RAY-pee)

Common name(s): small cabbage white butterfly; small white; imported cabbageworm; cabbage white; small cabbage white
Host plant(s): plants which contain glucosinolates, a chemical which cues female to lay eggs (See list of some of the host plants below.) 

Adult size: wingspan: 1.5 – 2.5 in (3.8-6.5 cm) 
Larva length: to 1.4 inches (3.5 cm)

Life cycle:
            Generations per year: 2 to 3 in southern Canada; several further south
            Egg: 3-7 days
            Larva: five instar stages; 11-33 days depending on time of year
            Pupa: 12 days in summer generation; months in winter generation
            Adult: 5-20 days

Pieris rapae - underside of wingsDescription:
 Wings of adult butterfly are white above with black on the forewing tip and one black dot in centre area of each forewing on males and two black dots in same area on females. Hind wings of both sexes has a black dot on the front edge. Underside of wings is generally a yellowish hue; black dots can be seen faintly through wings. The body is covered with substantial hair…white in females, darker in males.

Early adults emerging from diapaused pupae in early spring in the Pacific Northwest region are typically a little smaller in size with fewer black markings on the upper wings but with an additional edging of black on the underside at the base of the hindwing.

Each female produces 300-400 eggs in their life span.

The egg is 0.04 inches (1.0 mm) long and 0.02 inches (0.5 mm) wide. Laid on end, singly, on the underside of leaves of host plants, the bullet-shaped egg is pale white in colour initially, turning yellowish. Ridges running the length of the egg are visible.

Pieris rapae larva on Kale 'Lacinato'Larva develops through 5 instar stages. It is a velvety green colour with 5 pairs of prolegs and a narrow yellow line running down the centre of its back. (This line is missing in the first instar stage and can be broken up in early instars.) Dashes of narrow yellow lines, or several yellow spots can also be distinguished on both sides.

The chrysalis varies in colour…yellow, green, grey, speckled brown…and is roughly 0.7 – 0.8 inches (1.8-2.0 cm) long. Angled, keel-like ridges are prominently visible. In summer generations, pupation lasts about 11 days. As the chrysalis is the overwintering stage of this insect, the numbers of pupae entering diapause increases as autumn progresses.

In the Pacific Northwest, small white cabbage butterflies are active from early spring through until temperatures dip below 0 °C (32 °F), typically sometime in October or early November.


Special Notes: Originally native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa, this insect has now become well-established throughout much of the temperate regions in the world. It was accidentally introduced in the Montreal area of Canada in the 1860s. From there, it gradually spread throughout North America…although it is scarce or non-existent in semi-desert and desert regions. Nowadays it is classified as an important pest species.

Its life cycle and duration of all stages is governed by temperature. Whereas there are only two or three generations per year in Canada, there are three in the New England area of eastern United States, three to five in California, six to eight generations in the southern states with the exception of Florida where this pest is active year-round.


Remedial Actions: The small cabbage white has several natural predators including ambush bugs, shield bugs, predatory wasps and flies, as well as insect-eating birds. There are also various naturally occurring fungal and virus diseases which are detrimental to this pest, including glanulosis disease (GV)…a disease which acts quickly, inducing diarrhea in insect larvae and typically leading to a mortality rate of over 90%.

small white larva damage to Mustard 'Deep Purple'There are some crucifer crops which exhibit less susceptibility to damage by foraging cabbageworm larvae. These include: Chinese cabbage, kale, mustard, rutabaga, and turnip. Crucifer crops with glossy, dark green leaves seem to also be less susceptible to cabbageworm damage.

Female small white cabbage butterflies appear to avoid laying their eggs on all red cabbage varieties…although it is has been proven larval survival is indeed favoured by red cabbage.

Covering vegetable varieties which suffer cabbageworm damage with row covers is effective in preventing egg-laying.


List of host plants:

In the Cruciferae family:

  • Arabis glabra – tower mustard
  • Armoracia lapthifolia – horse radish
  • Armoracia aquatic – lakecress
  • Barbarea vulgaris – bittercress
  • Barbarea orthoceras – American yellowrocket
  • Barbarea verna – land cress
  • Brassica oleracea – wild cabbage
  • Brassica rapa – field mustard
  • Brassica napus – rapeseed
  • Brassica juncea – brown mustard
  • Brassica hirta – white mustard
  • Brassica nigra – black mustard
  • Cardaria draba – hoary cress
  • Capsella bursa-pastoris – shepherd’s purse (females lay eggs on this plant but larvae will not eat it)
  • Dentaria diphylla – two-leaved toothwort
  • Descurainia sophia – tansy mustard
  • Eruca sativa – arugula
  • Erysimum capitatum perenne – sand dune wallflower
  • Lobularia maritima – sweet alyssum
  • Lunaria annua – money plant; moonwort (larvae who eat this plant mature slower)
  • Matthiola incana – hoary stock
  • Nasturtium officinale – watercress
  • Raphanus sativus – radish
  • Rorippa curvisiliqua – curvepod yellowcress
  • Rorippa islandica – northern marsh yellowcress
  • Sisymbrium officinale – hedge mustard
  • Streptanthus tortuosus – shieldplant; mountain jewelflower
  • Thlaspi arvense – pennycress (larvae will not eat, or if they do, maturity is slowed)

In the Capparidaceae family:

  • Capparis sandwichiana – Hawaiian caper
  • Cleome serrulata – Rocky Mountain beeweed

In the Tropaeolaceae family:

  • Tropaeolum majus – garden nasturtium

In the Resedaceae family:

  • Reseda odorata – common mignonette



Posted on November 8, 2017