Large white butterfly

  • Scientific name: Pieris brassicae
  • Type: Insects

Key information

Large white butterflies have white wings with broad black tips on the forewings. Females also have two black spots and a black streak on each wing. Males have no spots on the upperside, but two black spots on the underside.

The large white is common throughout Britain and is considered a pest by many gardeners, as the caterpillars can severely damage Brassica crops. Migrants from continental Europe join our resident population each summer. Females lay clusters of 40-100 yellowish eggs on the undersides of leaves.

The caterpillars, which are grey-green mottled with black spots and yellow stripes, hatch after a few weeks. They feed communally, making large holes in the foodplant’s leaves. They protect themselves from predators by accumulating mustard oil, from the foodplant, in their bodies – this makes them smell unpleasant and extremely distasteful.

The caterpillars pupate beneath eaves, under fences or on tree trunks: it is often easy to find the overwintering speckled chrysalises, from which adult butterflies emerge in spring.

What they eat:

Adults drink nectar from flowers. Caterpillars eat Brassicas, such as cabbage, kale, and Brussel sprouts, and nasturtiums.

Identifying features:

Natural habitats: Eaves Fence/wall Flower border Hanging basket Hedge Herb garden Meadow area Patio Shrub Window box Woodland area

Where and when to see them

They can be see throughout the garden. Caterpillars in vegetable plots on Brassicas, such as cabbages. Common in any flowery places.

Adults can be seen from April to October. Caterpillars from June to September.

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