Large White Butterfly: Identification, Life Cycle, and Behavior

In this article, you’ll dive into the intriguing world of the Large White Butterfly. You’ll explore its classification, behavior, and the unique aspects that distinguish this species.

From identification to lifecycle, discover the fascinating details of this remarkable butterfly.

Large White butterfly

What is the Classification of Large White Butterfly?

The large white butterfly is officially recognized under the name Pieris brassicae. This species belongs to the extensive Pieridae family, which comprises various subspecies of white and sulphur butterflies.

At a higher taxonomic level, the Pieridae family is a member of the Lepidoptera order. Lepidoptera is an extensive order encompassing all butterflies and moths.

Some critical aspects of the classification of the large white butterfly are:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Class: Insecta
  • Order: Lepidoptera
  • Family: Pieridae
  • Genus: Pieris
  • Species: P. brassicae

This precise classification has profound implications for the large white butterfly’s life cycle, behavior, and ecological roles.

What is the Distribution of Large White Butterfly?

The Large White Butterfly, also known as Pieris brassicae, boasts a wide distribution range. This stunning species can be found throughout Europe, Northern Africa, Asia, and has even been introduced to North America.

In terms of geography, the Large White Butterfly is surprisingly adaptable. It thrives in several different climates, showing a remarkable ability to survive in temperate, sub-tropical, and tropical zones.

Interestingly, these butterflies are extremely nomadic. They’re known for migrating and establishing populations in new areas, fueled by their seemingly relentless search for suitable host plants.

In Europe alone, the Large White Butterfly has suffered a drastic decline in some regions, while flourishing in others.

They are most commonly found in countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Spain. In contrast, the butterfly is a more infrequent visitor in Scandinavia and Southern Italy.

The Large White Butterfly is particularly populous in North America, where it’s known as the ‘Cabbage White’.

This species was introduced to Quebec, Canada in the 19th century and has since spread throughout the continent, from the cold climates of Canada down to the warmer regions of Florida and Texas in the United States.

What are the Main Characteristics of the Large White Butterfly?

The Large White Butterfly, often known as the Cabbage White, has distinctive features that make it easily recognizable. With a wingspan between 2.3 and 2.9 inches (58 and 74 mm), it stands out with a noticeable size.

This butterfly species exhibits an off-white to bold white color, with black markings on the upper side of its wings.

The black markings differ between sexes. Males usually have one black dot per wing, while females often have two. Furthermore, its underside is pale yellow with a faint pattern of black dots.

This color scheme provides an effective defense mechanism, as it mimics bird droppings, making predators hesitate before attacking.

One distinguishing characteristic lies in its lifecycle. The Large White Butterfly lays vibrant, yellow spherical eggs, often on the underside of leaves.

Later stages unveil a caterpillar with a velvety-black body and a yellow stripe lining each side.

Although its vigorous flight might be a spectacle to behold, gardeners usually dislike it. These butterflies are known to cause considerable damage to cruciferous plants, their primary host.

On the brighter side, it is a pleasure to observe its unique looping flight pattern, making it a remarkable addition to any butterfly enthusiast’s list.

In terms of behavior, these butterflies are diurnal, meaning they are mostly active during the day. However, they have been spotted flying as late as dusk.

This behavior is crucial to understand for those interested in learning more about these creatures.

However, it also plays a significant role in managing their impact on crops and gardens. All in all, the Large White Butterfly is an intriguing species worthy of our attention and study.

How to Identify Male and Female Large White Butterfly?

Understanding how to differentiate between male and female Large White butterflies is a fascinating part of studying these wonderful creatures. The distinctions are subtle but important.

The primary indicators to look out for are color, size, and markings:

  • Color: Both sexes of the Large White Butterfly are mostly white; however, they have slight differences in shades. Generally, females tend to be a slightly yellowish white, while males may have a more pure white appearance.
  • Size: Males, compared to females, are slightly smaller. A male’s wingspan generally measures around 2.3-2.7 inches (58-69 millimeters), while a female’s wingspan is typically between 2.5-2.9 inches (64-74 millimeters).
  • Markings: The greatest distinguishing attribute between male and female Large White butterflies lies in their wing markings. Both have black markings on their wings, but the females’ markings are usually more pronounced than males’. Specifically, females have a second spot in the center of their forewings which males lack.

There’s an easy trick to remember this: “Ladies have more spots, just like they have more dots on their dresses”. This can help you remember that female butterflies have more spots than males.

Knowing these differences will let you understand the gender of the Large White butterfly confidently.

It’s a delightful observation to make, and with a bit of practice, you should be able to distinguish males from females in no time.

What is the Mating Ritual of the Large White Butterfly?

During the warm, sunny days, the mating season of the Large White Butterfly commences. This usually starts when a male spots a potential mate. The male Large White Butterfly will pursue the female, engaging in an aerial dance before landing, which is an essential part of this courtship process.

Once they alight, males perform a series of specific courtship behaviors. These include opening their wings and vibrating them rapidly. They also produce pheromones to attract the females, these invisible scent markers play a critical role in the mating ritual.

Females, in turn, may either accept or reject the males based on the quality of these performances and pheromones.

If a female accepts, she will allow the male to mount her, a process during which he positions himself on her back to mate. Throughout this phase, her nonchalant feeding often continues.

The mating of Large White Butterflies can last for several hours. Afterward, the female starts her quest for the perfect plants upon which to lay her eggs.

This mating routine is specifically adapted to ensure the survival and continuation of this spectacular species. The mating rituals, therefore, are not only theatrical performances but a critical process in the life of a Large White Butterfly.

What Does the Caterpillar of Large White Butterfly Look Like?

The caterpillar of a Large White Butterfly is one recognizable critter. With a length of approximately 1.5 inches (around 4 cm), they are quite noticeable. Their skin is a bright, striking velvety blue-green.

They have fine, short, black hairs scattered across their body. Running along the sides, you’ll notice a strip of bright, lemon-yellow adding extra dash to its beauty. A matching series of yellow spots further enhances the contrast.

Moreover, they have black heads that are often shiny. Their legs are also colored black, with this color bleeding into prominent black patches at the front and rear of their body.

The caterpillar’s unique coloration is more than just an aesthetic, it’s a warning. Yes, the attention-grabbing colors serve a purpose: alerting predators to the toxic properties within the caterpillar’s body.

This is a prime example of “aposematism,” where the bright colors are a warning about toxicity rather than an attraction strategy.

You should know though not all Large White Butterfly caterpillars look precisely the same. Some slight variances can occur due to environmental factors or the caterpillar’s age.

So, in brief, the Large White Butterfly caterpillar is a beautiful creature with a toxic defense mechanism. Its vibrant colors serve to warn predators of its inedibility.

Remember, always admire from a distance since they carry toxins that can irritate if you take them into your hands.

What is the Life Cycle of Large White Butterfly?

Beginning life as an egg, the Large White Butterfly follows the fundamental principles of metamorphosis. Typically, the period from laying to hatching lasts roughly a week.

Creating a cocoon-like structure known as a chrysalis is the next step in its journey. The Butterfly stays protected in this sleep-like state while it undergoes substantial transformations.

Normally, this stage lasts around two weeks.

At the end of this period, a visually striking creature emerges – the mature Large White Butterfly. Now an adult, it immediately begins seeking a mate to restart the cycle.

It’s impressive to note that the cycle is completed in about a month.

Here is a chronological overview of this intricate process:

  1. Egg: Female butterflies land on plants to lay small, yellowish eggs.
  2. Larva or caterpillar: After hatching, the larvae begin eating the plant they were hatched on. This stage lasts about 14-16 days.
  3. Pupa or chrysalis: The caterpillar creates a protective casing around itself; this is the pupal stage. Here, it morphs into an adult butterfly. This lasts approximately 14 days.
  4. Adult butterfly: Out comes the pristine, large, white butterfly with black tips on its wings. At this stage, they’re ready to mate and lay eggs, starting the whole cycle over again.

That’s the life cycle of Large White Butterfly. It’s a fascinating journey from beginning to end.

What Is the Average Life Expectancy of a Large White Butterfly?

A Large White Butterfly, like many of its butterfly counterparts, has a relatively short lifespan. In the final, butterfly stage of their life cycle, Large Whites typically live for around three to four weeks.

It’s important to remember that this is just an average and individual lifespans will deviate based on various factors. These can include the time of year, temperature, availability of food, and the presence of predators.

The majority of a Large White Butterfly’s life is actually spent in its larval (caterpillar) and pupal (chrysalis) stages. These stages combined can last for several weeks to months, depending on environmental conditions.

This means that the whole life cycle of a Large White Butterfly, from egg to end of butterfly stage, can range anywhere from one to several months.

To maximize their lifespan, Large White Butterflies will often migrate to warmer climates where food sources are readily available year-round.

However, even with these tactics, the fleeting life of a butterfly serves as a poignant reminder of the ephemeral nature of life.

Yet, in their short existence, these insects leave a lasting impact, playing vital roles in pollination and serving as a critical part of the food chain.

What Does the Diet of a Large White Butterfly Consist Of?

The Large White Butterfly, known scientifically as Pieris brassicae, has a diet that varies significantly, depending on its stage of life. As caterpillars, they are ravenous eaters, primarily feeding on cruciferous plants. In their butterfly stage, their diet mainly consists of nectar.

Caterpillar Stage

In the caterpillar stage, Large Whites show an uncompromising preference for cruciferous plants such as:

  • Cabbage: This is where the colloquial name ‘Cabbage White’ comes from. Various cabbage types like the Kale and Brussels sprouts are favorites.
  • Radish: They will also consume radish leaves when available.

Non-cruciferous plants like Nasturtium can also supplement their diet, but they much prefer crucifers.

Butterfly Stage

After metamorphosis, their dietary habits change. Nectar becomes their primary food source. They gravitate towards:

  • Thistles: They are particularly fond of nectar from these spiky plants.
  • Dandelions: The ubiquitous dandelion provides another nectar source.
  • Buddleia: Commonly known as the “Butterfly Bush,” buddleia flowers are rich in nectar.

A noteworthy fact: Large Whites are also known to derive amino acids and other nutrients from puddle water, dew on plants, and even dung.

The diet of the Large White Butterfly consists mainly of cruciferous plants in their caterpillar stage, and nectar in their adult stage.

This feeding habit enables them to adequately nourish and prepare for each stage of their life cycle.

Which Plants Serve as the Primary Hosts for Large White Butterfly?

When it comes to plant hosts, the large white butterfly has a clear preference. Cruciferous plants, or plants within the Brassicaceae family, serve as the predominant choice.

Caterpillars especially enjoy dining on cultivated cabbages, making these butterflies common sights in vegetable gardens.

  • Cabbage: The most favored host, cabbage prominently features on the butterfly’s staple diet. This plant family, abundant in home gardens and commercial farms, is highly susceptible to large white butterfly larvae, which would readily consume the leaves, given the opportunity.
  • Brassicas: Other than cabbage, wild Brassicas, like wild mustard, turnip, and radish also dependably accommodate these butterflies. These plants provide food as well as breeding grounds, encouraging early-stage larvae to develop successfully.
  • Nasturtium: Apart from Brassicas, nasturtium is another plant type that may host large white butterflies, demonstrating this butterfly’s versatility despite its specific favorites.

In essence, for all stages of their life, large white butterflies rely heavily on the Brassicaceae family and other, related plants.

This dependence on a narrow range ensures that the butterfly’s appearance is often predictable according to the presence of these plants.

If you’re a keen gardener who’s noticing a high population of these butterflies, it might be time to reassess your plant selection to dissuade the very hungry caterpillars.

What are the Unique Mimicry Behaviors in Large White Butterfly?

In the world of butterflies, mimicry plays a significant role. The Large White Butterfly is no stranger to this practice. Their mimicry behaviors are truly fascinating and unique.

Let’s delve into this fascinating subject and discover what makes these butterflies so remarkable.

The Large White Butterfly, also known as Pieris brassicae, adopts Batesian mimicry.

This is a form of survival strategy where a harmless creature imitates the warning signals of a harmful or poisonous one in order to escape predation. This behavior aids in the survival of the Large White Butterfly.

Predators, namely birds, often associate bright and contrasting colors with danger. Namely due to their previous encounters with poisonous or distasteful prey with vivid markings.

The Large White Butterfly mimics the patterns and colors of other distasteful butterfly species. This wards off potential predators, creating a sort of ‘mental block’ against them.

Hence, the mimicry appearing beneficial for these non-toxic, harmless butterflies.

Yet, it’s important to note these butterflies do not have an actual defense mechanism. No venom or foul taste. Their survival hinges solely upon the successful execution of this mimicry.

The Large White Butterfly is indeed a master of deception in the insect world.

The mimicry isn’t just visual. Large White Butterflies also deploy auditory mimicry. Beating their wings rapidly to create distracting noises.

This further sells their ‘dangerous’ persona, tricking potential threats.

Understanding the mimicry behaviors of the Large White Butterfly, it’s clear why they are considered a marvel in the insect kingdom. Their survival strategies showcase the intricate symbiosis between appearance, behavior, and survival.

So, next time, when you see a Large White Butterfly, remember they are not just beautiful creatures. They’re seasoned survivalists in their own right.

What Are the Main Threats to Large White Butterfly Populations?

Large White Butterflies face a range of threats despite their relative abundance and wide distribution.

Some of these key dangers include:

  • Predation: The life of a large white butterfly is fraught with risks from predators. From bats to birds, spiders to wasps, the list of potential predators runs long. Their eggs and caterpillars are equally at risk, becoming a food source for beetles, ants, and other insect species.
  • Pesticides: To stave off pests, farmers often saturate their lands with pesticides. Unintended victims of this effort to protect crops, large white butterflies encounter these chemicals during egg-laying or feeding, resulting in mortality or disturbances in their life cycle.
  • Habitat loss: Expansion of urban areas has led to habitat loss for many wildlife species, and the large white butterfly is no exception. Destruction of their natural habitats means diminished food sources, lesser mating pairs and consequently dwindling population numbers.
  • Climate changes: Temperature changes brought about by climate change can also negatively impact the large white butterfly. More volatile weather patterns, such as prolonged periods of cold or drought, make survival more difficult for these delicate creatures.

Understanding these threats is the first step to protect and preserve the large white butterfly populations.

Conservation efforts need to address the broad spectrum of hurdles this species faces in its struggle for survival.


In conclusion, the large white butterfly, with its unique characteristics and fascinating life cycle, is a remarkable species.

Moreover, understanding its diet, threats, and behaviors can contribute to its conservation.

Feel free to share your thoughts or experiences regarding the large white butterfly in the comments below.

Butterflies   Updated: July 7, 2023
avatar Welcome to Insectic, a blog to learn about insects and bugs. I'm Richard, and I've created this website to share my experience, knowledge, and passion with others.

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