E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Wildlife of British Columbia

Pieris rapae Schrank, 1801
Cabbage Butterfly; Whites
Family: Pieridae (Whites, Marbles, and Sulphurs)
Species account authors: Crispin Guppy and Jon Shepard.
Extracted from Butterflies of British Columbia
The Families of Lepidoptera of BC
Introduction to the Butterflies of BC
Photo of species

© Jeremy Gatten  Email the photographer   (Photo ID #6056)

E-Fauna BC Static Map
Distribution of Pieris rapae in British Columbia
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Species Information

Click on the image(s) below to view an expanded illustration for this taxon.

Illustration Source: Butterflies of British Columbia by Crispin Guppy and Jon Shepard © Royal BC Museum


Cabbage Whites are white, with the apex of the dorsal forewings black, a black spot near the centre of the dorsal forewings, and a black spot on the front margin of the hindwing. There is a black spot in the middle of the ventral forewing. The ventral hindwing and the apex of the ventral forewing are pale yellow in fresh specimens, and never have the dark veins of other whites. Females are cream-coloured rather than white, and have a black spot and/or streak along the hind margin of the forewings. In the spring brood of Cabbage Whites, the dark markings are strongly reduced and less distinct than in the summer broods (Bowles 1872).

Immature Stages

Cabbage White eggs are yellow, conical, and ribbed down the sides. Newly hatched larvae are initially yellowish, and turn green after they commence feeding. Mature larvae are green, with a pale yellow stripe down the back. Pupae have a dorsal ridge and a lateral projection on each side. Pupal colour is usually similar to that of their substrate, ranging from brown to green.


Only the nominate subspecies, described from Sweden, occurs in North America.

Genus Description

Pieris was one of the Muses (Pierides) who lived on Mt. Pierus, close to Mt. Olympus. Pieris was one of the five families into which Schrank divided the butterflies. Originally Schrank applied the name to all the swallowtails and whites, with the first species name being apollo (Apollo was the patron of the Muses). Latreille later separated the swallowtails and whites, applying the name Pieris to what we now call the family Pieridae (Emmet 1991). The common name "whites" is shared with Pontia and refers to the predominantly white colour of the wings.

Whites in the genus Pieris are all medium-sized white butterflies with black markings and, especially when newly emerged, with pale yellow ventral hindwings. Some females of all the species are entirely yellow. The genus Pontia includes other species of whites.

The eggs of whites are conical, with vertical ribs down the sides and numerous small horizontal ridges between the vertical ribs. The eggs are pale yellow or yellow green. Eggs are laid singly on the leaves or flowers of plants in the mustard family (Brassicaceae), both cultivated species and native mustards. Mature larvae are green and smooth-skinned with a thin coat of fine hairs. Whites hibernate as pupae, which are roughly cylindrical and smooth except for dorsal and dorsolateral ridges; the pupae are held against a stem or other vertical surface with a girdle.

In the genus Pieris, the cross-vein at the end of the forewing discal cell curves inward towards the wing base. Unlike in the genus Pontia, this vein is not surrounded by a black spot. There are dark borders to the veins on the ventral hindwing and ventral forewing apex, except in the Cabbage White and summer broods of some other species. Geiger and Scholl (1985) and Robbins and Hensen (1986) showed that Artogeia Verity, 1947, into which some authors have placed the BC species of Pieris, is a synonym of the genus Pieris.

Until recently only two species of the genus Pieris were thought to occur in BC, the introduced Cabbage White and the Holarctic Pieris napi. Instead, there are four species of Pieris in BC, and it is now clear that Pieris napi does not occur in North America (Geiger and Shapiro 1992).

Eitschberger (1983) proposed four BC species: P. rapae, P. marginalis (four subspecies), P. oleracea, and P. angelika, which are distinguished by small differences in wing pattern characteristics. The fact that Eitschberger's book was in German, its high cost, and unreasonably critical reviews of this book by Kudrna and Geiger (1985), Ferris (1989), and Shapiro (1985b) combined to make Eitschberger (1983) ignored by most North American authors. Eitschberger's revision of Pieris is substantially supported by the electrophoretic data of Geiger and Shapiro (1992), however, which has led to a grudging acceptance of parts of his work.

During the preparation of this book, we examined several series of northern Pieris collected by Norbert Kondla and CSG, and various museum specimens. CSG conducted further sampling and rearing of northern BC Pieris. Two Pieris are sympatric in various northern locaIities, from Valemont to the southern Yukon: P. oleracea and P. marginalis tremblayi. Near the Yukon border, they a rejoined by a third species, P. angelika. Eitschberger's P. marginalis guppyi is electrophoretically quite distinct from P. marginalis marginalis (Geiger and Shapiro 1992), and the wing pattern of tremblayi indicates that it is closely related to guppyi. This suggests that guppyi and tremblayi may be a separate species from P. marginalis. We do not raise Pieris guppyi to species status, with tremblayi as a subspecies of guppyi, because the electrophoretic data are, by themselves, insufficient to separate the taxa into two species.


Cabbage Whites are multivoltine throughout most of their range. In BC adults emerge in the spring (March on the coast, April in the interior) from hibernating pupae. Females usually begin to lay eggs on the second or third day after emergence (Jones 1977). Eggs are laid singly, usually on the underside of the edges of leaves, and hatch in 3-6 days. A generation is completed in 4-8 weeks (depending on the temperature), with 3-4 generations per year in southern BC and probably 3 in the Peace River lowlands. The larvae are very resistant to cold, wet autumn weather, and in mild years occur on cabbage crops well into December on the south coast.

In BC larval foodplants include many plants of European origin in the family Brassicaceae, such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, mustards, rape, canola, and weedy Brassicaceae (Hovanitz 1962; CSG). Wild radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) growing as a roadside weed can support large populations (CSG). They also feed on garden nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus), but it is not as suitable a larval foodplant as cabbage crops (Hovanitz and Chang 1962). Native species of Brassicaceae are used, but Cabbage Whites apparently never establish permanent populations on them (Hovanitz and Chang 1962). The multivoltine Cabbage White may find it difficult to adapt to the seasonal nature of most native Brassicaceae. Outside BC other foodplants include common watercress, Arabis glabra, Barbarea vulgaris, B. orthoceras, Brassica carinata, B. kaber, B. nigra, Cardaria pubescens, C. latifolia, Cleome serrulata, Eruca vesicaria ssp. sativa, Hirschfeldia incana, Lunaria annua, Lepidium virginicum, L. campestre, Rorippa teres, Sisymbrium officinale, S. altissimum, and Thlaspi arvense (Remington 1952; Shapiro and Shapiro 1974; Shapiro 1976d; Scott 1992).


Cabbage Whites commonly occur across southern and central BC, and in the Peace River lowlands in agricultural areas. The Queen Charlotte Islands and Atlin records represent temporary introductions that resulted from larvae or pupae imported on fresh produce. The northernmost permanent population is associated with a farm on the Alaska Highway west of Racing River. The range of Cabbage Whites in BC is probably determined by lack of agricultural habitats rather than climatic factors. Typical habitats are fields of cruciferous crops, urban and suburban gardens, and vacant lots containing weedy introduced species of Brassicaceae. Fresh specimens are occasionally seen far from agricultural areas, suggesting sporadic breeding on native species of Brassicaceae.



Cabbage Whites are native to northern Africa and Europe, and are found across Asia to Japan. They have also been introduced to Australia, Hawaii, and many other places, and are now found throughout most parts of the world in which cabbage and other cole crops are grown.

Status Information

Origin StatusProvincial StatusBC List
(Red Blue List)
ExoticSNAExoticNot Listed
BC Ministry of Environment: BC Species and Ecosystems Explorer--the authoritative source for conservation information in British Columbia.

Additional Photo Sources

General References

Recommended citation: Author, Date. Page title. In Klinkenberg, Brian. (Editor) 2021. E-Fauna BC: Electronic Atlas of the Fauna of British Columbia [efauna.bc.ca]. Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver. [Accessed: 2023-11-30 2:53:17 AM]
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