Large White Butterfly: A Quick Guide to Identification & Behavior

The Large White Butterfly is a fascinating creature that draws the attention of nature enthusiasts and gardeners alike. This butterfly, commonly found in various regions, is known for its distinctive appearance and intriguing life cycle.

One of the most recognizable features of the Large White Butterfly is its checkered pattern of white and black on its wings. As caterpillars, they feed on a variety of plants, such as wild and non-native mustards, often found along roadsides url. As adults, these butterflies continue to captivate observers with their enchanting presence and contribute to the overall health of the ecosystem by being essential pollinators.

Large White Butterfly: Identification and Appearance

Size and Wingspan

  • Size: The Large White butterfly (Pieris brassicae) is a medium-to-large-sized butterfly.

  • Wingspan: Its wingspan ranges from 5 to 6.5 cm (2 to 2.5 inches).

Color and Markings

  • Color: These butterflies have white wings with black markings.
  • Markings: They have a black blotch on the outer edge of the forewings and a few black spots on the top of the hindwings.

Distinguishing Features

Below are some distinguishing features of Large White butterflies in comparison to other white butterfly species:

Features Large White Other white butterflies
Size Medium to large Varies
Wingspan 5 to 6.5 cm Varies
Black tip on forewings Yes Not in all species
Black spots on hindwings Few Varies
Underside of wings Yellowish-green Varies
  • Forewings: Apart from their size and black markings, Large White butterflies have black tips on their forewings that can help in identification.

  • Hindwings: Another distinguishing feature is the few black spots on their hindwings compared to other white butterfly species.

To identify a Large White butterfly, look for a medium-to-large-sized butterfly with white wings and black markings. The black tips on the forewings and few black spots on the hindwings are key features to distinguish them from other white butterfly species.

Lifecycle and Breeding Habits

Eggs and Caterpillars

Female Large White Butterflies lay their eggs on host plants, typically among cabbages and other cruciferous vegetables. For example:

  • Cabbage
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Broccoli

The eggs are yellowish and laid in clusters. After hatching, the caterpillars feed on the host plants, growing and molting several times.

Adults and Mating

Large White Butterflies undergo a complete transformation, emerging as adults in the springtime. Adult characteristics include:

  • Wingspan: 5-7 cm
  • Colors: White with black tips on forewings

Males and females find mates through a courtship display, where the male hovers above the female, releasing pheromones to attract her. Adults have a few mutual characteristics:

  • Lifespan: 3-4 weeks
  • Diet: Flower nectar
Female Male
Size: Slightly larger Size: Slightly smaller
Extra black spot on forewings No extra black spot on forewings

Multiple Generations in a Year

In suitable habitats, Large White Butterflies can produce multiple generations within a year. For example, in the US, there may be up to three generations per year. Each generation overlaps, with eggs, caterpillars, and adults present simultaneously.

Behavior and Distribution

Feeding Preferences

Large White Butterflies caterpillars feed primarily on plants in the cabbage family, like:

  • Garlic mustard
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower

Adult butterflies, on the other hand, search for nectar from various flowers to fuel their flight.

Finding Suitable Habitats

These butterflies prefer habitats that include:

  • Gardens
  • Hedgerows
  • Woodland edges

They can be found at various altitudes, from sea level up to 2,000 meters in some parts of their range.

Geographical Distribution

Country Presence
Britain Widespread
England Common
Ireland Common

Large White Butterflies are commonly found throughout Britain, England, and Ireland. They have adapted to various environments and can be observed in rural and urban areas alike.

Host Plants and Gardens

Cabbage and Brassicas

Large White Butterflies (Pieris brassicae) primarily lay their eggs on plants within the cabbage family (Brassicaceae). Some common examples include:

  • Cabbage (Brassica oleracea)
  • Kale
  • Oil-seed rape
  • Wild Mignonette (Reseda lutea)
  • Sea kale (Crambe maritima)

These caterpillars can cause significant damage to these plants, especially in allotments and gardens.

Attracting the Large White Butterfly to Your Garden

If you’d like to attract Large White Butterflies to your garden, consider planting some of their preferred host plants. Some suggestions are:

  • Tropaeolum majus (nasturtiums)
  • Brassica oleracea (cabbage family)

To further entice them, ensure your garden has:

  • Sunny, sheltered areas
  • A variety of nectar-rich flowers

Host Plants and Protection

Balance attracting Large Whites with protecting your cabbages and brassicas. Some strategies include:

  • Planting sacrificial plants like nasturtiums to distract them from your cabbage crop
  • Covering brassicas with fine mesh/netting to prevent egg-laying.

In summary, to create an ideal environment for Large White Butterflies, provide their favorite host plants and protect your prized crops with barriers like fine mesh or by using sacrificial plants. Remember to keep your garden sunny, sheltered, and full of nectar-rich flowers.

Similar Species and Identification Tips

Small White Butterfly

The Small White Butterfly (Pieris rapae) is often confused with the Large White Butterfly. Some key differences include:

  • Smaller size
  • Less extensive black markings on the wingtips

These butterflies can often be found around wildflowers.

Green-Veined White

The Green-Veined White (Pieris napi) shows distinct differences:

  • Green veins on the undersides of the wings
  • Prefers damp habitats and woodlands

Orange-Tip

Orange-Tip butterflies (Anthocharis cardamines) have these characteristics:

  • Males have bright orange wingtips
  • Females have black wingtips, similar to Large Whites
  • Mottled green and white patterning on wing undersides

Other White Butterfly Species and Differences

There are several other white butterfly species, such as:

  • Wood White
  • Checkered White
  • Margined White
  • Pine White
  • Western White
  • West Virginia White
  • Becker’s White
  • Giant White
  • Chiricahua White

Comparison table:

Species Wingtip Markings Underside Pattern Habitat
Large White Black Plain Gardens, wildflowers
Small White Lesser black Plain Gardens, wildflowers
Green-Veined White Lesser black Green veins Damp habitats
Orange-Tip Orange (male) Mottled green Hedgerows, wildflowers

In general, these white butterfly species can be differentiated by their:

  • Wingtip markings
  • Underside patterns
  • Preferred habitats

Threats and Predators

Common Predators of Large White Butterfly

Large white butterflies face numerous predators in their lifetime. Some common predators include:

  • Birds
  • Spiders
  • Wasps
  • Beetles

These predators target all life stages of the butterfly, from eggs to larvae to adults.

Comparison of Large White Butterfly with other butterfly species:

Species Predators Size Habitat
Large White Butterfly Birds, spiders, wasps, beetles 5-6.5 cm Gardens, meadows, hedgerows
Green-veined White Birds, spiders 4-5 cm Woodlands, meadows, hedgerows
Orange-tip Birds, ants 4.5-5.5 cm Grassy habitats, hedgerows
Swallowtail Butterfly Birds, ants 7-10 cm Wetlands, marshes, riverbanks

Protecting Caterpillars from Predators

Caterpillars of large white butterflies have several strategies to protect themselves from predators:

  • Camouflage: Caterpillars have a well-developed color pattern that helps them blend in with their surroundings.
  • Feeding on toxic plants: Eating toxic plants like cabbage and mustard allows the caterpillar to accumulate chemicals that deter predators.
  • Hiding: Caterpillars often hide under leaves during the day, minimizing exposure to predators.

In order to support large white butterfly populations in the north east, consider planting host plants (e.g., cabbages, mustard) and providing cover in habitats like gardens, meadows, and hedgerows. This will give the caterpillars food and shelter, helping them avoid predation.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Large White Caterpillars

 

Subject: Need to identify this bug please
Location: Reading, UK
July 28, 2015 4:04 am
I have them on my nasturtium and I suspected they hatched from yellow eggs.
Signature: Ahmed

Large White Caterpillars
Large White Caterpillars

Dear Ahmed,
The easiest way to identify an unknown caterpillar is to know the food plant and the location, both of which you provided for us.  We quickly found the answer to be Caterpillars of the Large White,
Pieris brassicae, and the Hortographical site has an excellent posting on these Large White Caterpillars.

Letter 2 – Bath White from Spain

 

Subject: Butterfly ID
Location: Northern Spain
July 28, 2017 8:44 am
Hi Guy’s,
I took these images in Northern Spain in June but I can’t identify them, can you help.
Signature: Tony Mellor UK

Bath White

Dear Tony,
Your butterfly images represent multiple families, consequently, we will take them one at a time so as not to create too much confusion in our archiving process.  One file was labeled Bath White, and upon researching that, we agree with your identification thanks to this image of
 Pontia daplidice on UK Butterflies where it states:  “This is an extremely scarce immigrant to the British Isles and, in some years, is not seen at all. However, on occasion, it does appear in large numbers, such as the great immigration of 1945. The first specimen was recorded in the British Isles in the late 17th century. Between 1850 and 1939 there were very few records, with only a few years reaching double figures. The exception was 1906 when several hundred were supposedly seen on the cliffs at Durdle Door, Dorset, although these records are considered suspect. The great years for this species, however, were between 1944 and 1950, with over 700 seen in 1945, mostly in Cornwall. This species has been extremely scarce ever since with less than 20 individuals recorded since 1952. It is believed that this species cannot survive our winter although some offspring resulting from the 1945 invasion may have survived into the following year. In the British Isles the species was potentially capable of producing 2 or 3 broods in good years.
The butterfly was originally known as “Vernon’s Half Mourner” after the first recognised capture by William Vernon in Cambridgeshire in May 1702, although earlier records are now known. However, the common name of this butterfly comes from a piece of needlework that figures this species, supposedly showing a specimen taken in or near Bath in 1795, and the name seems to have “stuck”. This species is a rare migrant to the British Isles. Although most records come from the south coast of England, this species has been reported as far north as Lincolnshire and Yorkshire in England, and also in County Wexford, south east Ireland (a record from 1893).”
According to Learn About Butterflies:  “
Pontia is represented in all continents except North America and Australasia. The most widespread and abundant species is daplidice. It occurs in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, the Canary Islands and over most of Europe. … The butterfly is also recorded as a rare vagrant in southern Britain.”

Daniel thanks for the very detailed reply. I thought it was a bath white but it’s probiscus didn’t look right, it seemed to have a forked growth on it, that’s why u sent it to you.
Regards

Letter 3 – Caper White from India

 

Subject: Butterfly
Location: India
July 21, 2013 8:12 pm
I saw this pretty butterfly while visiting Agra fort during summers…..could you identify it?
Signature: Nupur

Caper White
Caper White

Dear Nupur,
We found a matching image of a Caper White on Butterfly Zone, but there is no scientific name.  TrekNature identifies the Caper White as
Belenois java teutonia, and indicates:  “This butterfly has its origins in Africa where a large number of morphologically similar species occur. The butterfly belongs in the Anaphaeis subgeneric group, the name which this butterfly used to be known as. This subgroup contains members that undertake major mass migrations. In Africa the major member is Belenois(Anaphaeis) aurota which annually undertakes migrations during summer-autumn in a northeast direction.
This butterfly has historically made its way to India, and from there probably made its way via Indonesia to Australia where it is now represented by B. java.
… It is a strong migrant, and every spring, numbers of these butterflies will fly south from northern breeding grounds helped by the hot northerly winds that occur at that time. They sometimes fly over the sea reaching islands adjacent to Australia, although they have yet to make it to New Zealand. Females are both gravid and fertile during these migrations and will stop to lay eggs on hostplants if they happen upon them. The numbers in these migrations can be immense, attracting attention from the public who often think it is a plague of Cabbage Whites descending upon them.”
Several years ago, we posted some photos of a large group of Caper Whites “puddling” in Mali

Letter 4 – Giant White Butterfly or Optical Illusion???

 

Giant white winged butterfly?
Location: Auburn, NJ
July 7, 2011 8:48 am
Hi, I know the pics aren’t much, but I’m way curious with this one. This has got to be the biggest winged insect I’ve seen here. Unfortunately, it was at least 100 yards away from where I stood on the bridge over Oldmans Creek, near Auburn NJ. My eyes picked up on something white, and honestly, until I zoomed in with the camera expected it would be some sort of marsh bird. Or a flower or leaf or something large like that.
Only thing I can think of comes close to this size might be a luna moth. But this one is floating on a reed in the creek shallows, with it’s wings up. I thought moths usually rest with their wings down. I tried to adjust the settings hoping for some more detail, but it took off.
I’ll keep looking for it down there, and in the guides, but maybe it was just passing through? Thanks for any help.
Signature: Val

White Thing

Hi Val,
While a picture might be worth a thousand words, there are times that a photo doesn’t quite capture the experience of actually seeing something.  Our eyes frequently play tricks on us, and photographs have the capacity to distort reality because of the compression of space and the way that perspective and depth perception can fool they eye.  We can’t help but to draw comparisons between your photo and the images of the Loch Ness Monster or photos of UFOs.  Additionally the great film director Michelangelo Antonioni demonstrated in his ground breaking film Blow-Up that by enlarging a portion of a photograph in order to obsess on a detail, it is possible to see things that are not really there or to see what one wants to see while the image quality degrades.  We don’t know what you saw, but there does appear to be something white that is shaped like a butterfly in your photograph.

White Thing

Letter 5 – Large White Caterpillar from Israel

 

Subject:  identify caterpillar
Geographic location of the bug:  Raanana, Israel
Date: 03/26/2018
Time: 11:54 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  We found a lot of these caterpillars in our garden eating our nasturtium leaves. We have become fond of them, and have put some in a box, hoping to get butterflies (which we will release of course). They remind us of the silkworms we used to have as kids. Please can you give us some information about them. Is there anything else we can feed them besides nasturtium leaves?
How you want your letter signed:  Bug lovers

Large White Caterpillar

Dear Bug lovers,
Thank you for providing the information that nasturtium is the food plant.  We believe this is the caterpillar of a Large White,
Pieris brassicae, a butterfly that is found in Israel according to Israel’s Nature Site.  According to Learn About Butterflies:  “The Large White, often inaccurately referred to as the Cabbage White, is found across the whole of Europe including the Mediterranean islands and the sub-arctic areas of Scandinavia. It also occurs in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and across temperate Asia to the Himalaya mountains. It does not occur naturally beyond these regions, but was accidentally introduced to Chile.”  Hortographical has many images of Large White caterpillars feeding on nasturtium.

Thank you Daniel for all that good information,
We look forward to many white butterflies.
This is a great service you offer.
Best wishes,
Bug lovers Anthony and Jenny

Letter 6 – Puddling Caper Whites in Mali, Africa

 

November 16, 2009
The butterflies inhabit a pond shared with 10 crocodiles in a village called Banani.

Unknown Puddling Whites in Mali
Puddling Caper Whites in Mali

This village is one of 10 Dogon villages located beneath the Bandiagara Escarpment which contains ancient Tellem cave dwellings in Mali, West Africa.
AJ

Unknown Puddling Whites in Mali
Puddling Caper Whites in Mali

Dear AJ,
Your photos are stunningly beautiful.  These butterflies are a species in the group known as Whites in the family Pieridae.  The butterflies are puddling, drinking water with dissolved chemical salts.  This unusual practice is characteristic of many butterflies the world over.  We will try to identify the exact species when we have time.  We found one photo online on a Harvard website labeled Brown Veined White Butterfly that looks very close to your specimens.  Continued searching found another visual match on the Birdman in Tanzania website, and the Brown Veined White is identified as Belenois aurota.  The species often has spectacular migrations with thousands of individuals.  The Marketgid Website also calls the species the Caper White.  Maybe Karl can take a stab at this ID.

Unknown Puddling Whites in Mali
Puddling Caper Whites in Mali

Letter 7 – Spring White and Mating Western Whites

 

Spring White/ Western Whites
Hi Lisa Anne and Daniel,
it seems to be a good Spring for whites in central WY. Saw this Spring White (no pun intended) and pair of Western Whites today. Peace,
Dwaine

Spring White Mating Western Whites

Hi again Dwaine,
Thanks for continuing to add to our butterfly archive with the Spring White, Pontia sisymbrii, and mating Western White, Pontia occidentalis, images. Jeffrey Glassberg indicates in his book Butterflies Through Binoculars The West that the Spring White rarely stays still for long, which makes your photograph especially noteworthy.

Letter 8 – Spring White and Mating Western Whites

 

Spring White/ Western Whites
Hi Lisa Anne and Daniel,
it seems to be a good Spring for whites in central WY. Saw this Spring White (no pun intended) and pair of Western Whites today. Peace,
Dwaine

Spring White Mating Western Whites

Hi again Dwaine,
Thanks for continuing to add to our butterfly archive with the Spring White, Pontia sisymbrii, and mating Western White, Pontia occidentalis, images. Jeffrey Glassberg indicates in his book Butterflies Through Binoculars The West that the Spring White rarely stays still for long, which makes your photograph especially noteworthy.

Letter 9 – Becker's White Caterpillar

 

Yellow caterpillar
September 21, 2009
Once again I need your help! In June I was hiking through Zion National Park in Utah and saw this little yellow caterpillar in a Prince’s Plume flower. I have searched high and low through Caterpillars in the Field and Garden and cannot find this little guy (or gal).
I’m also including this awesome picture of a black widow I took last friday. She was posing beautifully and thought I’d share it.
Thank you for always coming through and helping me!
Holly
Zion National Park, Utah

Unknown Caterpillar from Utah
Becker's White Caterpillar from Utah

Hi Holly,
Sadly, we don’t recognize your caterpillar, and we are a bit pressed for time, so we cannot immediately research this.  We are posting your letter and photo in the hope that that one of our readers might assist you.  Since the range of the Prince’s Plume Flower, Stanleya pinnata, is listed as Southern Utah, we expect that the caterpillar might be relatively easy to identify if it is associated with the plant.  Here is more information on the Prince’s Plume Flower.

Update:
Thanks to Karl’s comment, we now know that this is a Becker’s White (Pontia beckerii) caterpillar (family Pieridae).

Update from Keith Wolfe
September 26, 2009
Hi Daniel,
Hello Holly,
For more excellent Utah photos of the Becker’s White:
http://www.wildutah.us/h_b_pontia_beckeri_immatures.html
In California, where I live, this species also utilizes Bladderpod (Isomeris arborea, family Cleomaceae), and similar to other butterflies whose larvae feed on plant inflorescences, it completes development in relatively few days (egg 3, caterpillar 14, chrysalis 6).
Best wishes,
Keith Wolfe

Letter 10 – Western White Ribboned Carpet Moths

 

Mystery butterfly
Location: Douglas and Jackson counties, Oregon
May 9, 2012 9:59 pm
Hello bugman, I’ve seen these guys hanging around puddles in southern Oregon but have not found them anywhere in my guidebooks. Any idea what kind of butterfly these are?
Signature: Richard

Western White Ribboned Carpet Moths

Hi Richard,
You may have encountered difficulties in your attempts to identify this creature because it is not a butterfly.  It is a diurnal moth.  We did a web search for “diurnal moth Oregon” and found a photo on a FlickR forum Discussing ID Help Line in Field Guide:  Butterflies & Moths of North America where it was identified as the Western White-ribboned Carpet Moth (
Mesoluca gratulata).  BugGuide has a page on the Western White Ribboned Carpet Moth and states:  “adults fly during the day mostly in early spring (February-April), with a few late stragglers until mid-June.”

Thanks Daniel!
I was fooled a bit by some of the other pictures I had taken of these bunch of moths…in the photos their wings were upright so I presumed they were butterflies.  I probably caught them in mid-flit and, as a rank amateur, made the wrong presumption.  Thanks once again for your help, I really appreciate it.
Richard
Richard O’Neill
www.richardhikes.com

These Western White Ribboned Carpet Moths are easily mistaken for butterflies if you use the reductive differentiation methods most commonly mentioned including that butterflies fly in the day and moths fly at night and that butterflies rest with wings aloft and moths rest with wings flat.  Those generalizations fit most butterflies and moths but not all of them.

Letter 11 – White Butterfly from Israel

 

What’s that butterfly?
March 20, 2011 12:04 pm
Hello
I found this beautiful butterfly resting on a cyclamen flower in a forest near Jerusalem.
Can you please help identify it?
Thank you.
Signature: Gal

White Butterfly

Hi Gal,
Your butterfly is one of the Whites in the family Pieridae.  We located an Israeli Insect World website and we believe your butterfly is one of the members of the genus
Euchloe, possibly Euchloe ausonia melisande or Euchloe aegyptiaca based on photos posted to the site.

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

9 thoughts on “Large White Butterfly: A Quick Guide to Identification & Behavior”

  1. Hi Holly:

    Your photo is a little bit fuzzy but it looks like it is probably a Becker’s White (Pontia beckerii) caterpillar (family Pieridae). It can be found in arid inter-montane valleys from southern British Columbia to Baja California. The larvae generally feed on the flowers and flower buds of plants in the mustard family (Brassicaceae); including Stanleya pinnata where that plant occurs. You can go to: http://www.mariposasmexicanas.com/pontia_beckerii.htm for photos of larvae and adults. Regards.

    K

    Reply
  2. Thank you kkroeker! That was my caterpillar. I’m guessing since I caught it shedding the old skin that this is still a pretty early instar. It looks like it loses that beautiful yellow color later on.

    Reply
  3. I say it’s either a Giant White, or a big dead flower or leaf that floated down to the water that just looks like a butterfly. It doesn’t look like it’s floating on top of anything to me, and I’ve never heard of any butterflies that can just float with its legs in water. That’s my opinion.

    Reply
  4. I know it’s hard to see here, but there appeared to be a reed or something floating along with it. The more I’ve explored the possibilities, the only explanation makes sense to me would be flora, not fauna.

    Val

    Reply
  5. The butterfly in the image resemble, to the ones that I see in my backyard.
    These are so beautiful, I always searched the Google to find their names, but had no success.
    A big thank you to you, for giving so much information about them.
    Thanks again 🙂

    Reply
  6. The butterfly in the image resemble, to the ones that I see in my backyard.
    These are so beautiful, I always searched the Google to find their names, but had no success.
    A big thank you to you, for giving so much information about them.
    Thanks again 🙂

    Reply
  7. I found your site while googling images of butterflies. It’s funny because not even a week ago I took pictures of a beetle that I’ve never seen before. This thing is gigantic ! Has gold and black markings. I’ll upload a picture later (site added to bookmarks). I’m curious to know what it is.

    Anyways, nice site.

    Reply
  8. I found your site while googling images of butterflies. It’s funny because not even a week ago I took pictures of a beetle that I’ve never seen before. This thing is gigantic ! Has gold and black markings. I’ll upload a picture later (site added to bookmarks). I’m curious to know what it is.

    Anyways, nice site.

    Reply

Leave a Comment