Pieris rapae

Geographic Range

Cabbage butterflies (Pieris rapae), known as cabbage worms in their caterpillar stage, are found all around the world in temperate climates. They were introduced to Montreal in the 1860s and have spread throughout North America. (Barlett, 2004; Capinera, 2014)


Cabbage butterflies are found in a variety of habitats. They can be found in almost any type of open space, including meadows, bogs, forests, fields, and open spaces. (Barlett, 2004)

Physical Description

Cabbage worms, the larval form of cabbage butterflies, are up to 35 mm in length. These caterpillars have a green, velvety appearance. The four final instars have yellow stripes running along the centers of their backs. Adult butterflies have a wingspan that ranges from 4.5 cm to 6.5 cm. Cabbage butterflies have white wings tipped in black. They have one black spot on the upper side of the hindwing. Females have two black dots in the middle of their wings and dense, white hair on their bodies. Males have a single black dot in the middle of their wings and dense, yellowish hair on their bodies. (Barlett, 2004; Capinera, 2014)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • Range wingspan
    4.5 to 6.5 cm
    1.77 to 2.56 in


Cabbage worms mature for around 15 days before undergoing metamorphosis to become cabbage butterflies. During this period of development, the larvae undergo five instars and four molts. Pupation occurs in chrysalises built on food plants or nearby debris. Grey, green, yellow, or brown in color, the chrysalises are 19-20 mm in length. Metamorphosis can last from 11 days up to a few weeks. Cabbage worms that pupate late in the year may overwinter in their chrysalises before emerging. (Capinera, 2014; Richards, 1940)


Female cabbage butterflies mate once as early adults. (Kingsolver, 2000)

Female cabbage butterflies lay between 300-400 eggs in their lifetimes. They lay one egg at a time on the undersides of leaves. The eggs are white and become more yellow as they age. A single plant can have up to 57 eggs and 48 larvae on it. (Capinera, 2014; Kingsolver, 2000)

  • Breeding interval
    Cabbage butterflies breed once in their lifetimes.
  • Breeding season
    Cabbage butterflies breed from early spring to early fall.
  • Range eggs per season
    300 to 400
  • Range time to independence
    0 (low) minutes
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    21 (low) days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    21 (low) days
  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement


Cabbage butterflies live from 3 to 6 weeks, depending on the weather. About 3 weeks of their lifespans are spent as adults. There are 2-3 generations per year in Colorado, 3 in New England, 3-5 in California, and 6-8 near the southernmost part of the range of cabbage butterflies. (Capinera, 2014)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    21 to 42 days
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    21 to 42 hours


Cabbage butterflies are active during the day. They fly from spring until September, but they have shorter active seasons farther north and longer active seasons in the south. (Barlett, 2004; Capinera, 2014)

Communication and Perception

Like other butterflies, cabbage butterflies have compound eyes. They are able to see ultraviolet light. (Berger, 2001)

  • Communication Channels
  • visual

Food Habits

Adult cabbage butterflies feed on nectar, while larval cabbage worms feed on the leafy foliage. Cabbage butterflies prefer feeding on nectar from plants that contain mustard oil. They have been seen feeding from the flowers of mustard plants, dandelions, broccolis, cabbages, Brussel sprouts, cauliflowers, collards, horseradish, kale, red clovers, asters, and mints. Larvae feed on the leafy parts of these plants, sometimes reducing the plants to stems. They prefer cabbage plants, hence their name. (Barlett, 2004; Capinera, 2014)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • nectar


Predators include shield bugs, ambush bugs, vespid wasps, European wasps, harvestmen, and hoverflies. The species known as white butterfly parasites attack cabbage worms. (Ashby, 1974; Capinera, 2014; Kingsolver, 2000)

Ecosystem Roles

Cabbage worms and cabbage butterflies, despite being different life stages of the same creature, have very different environmental roles. Cabbage worms can negatively impact their ecosystems by wounding or killing plants through their ravenous feeding. Cabbage butterflies only the nectar of plants without destroying the foliage. Additionally, cabbage butterflies are important pollinators of crop plants, such as cabbage. (Barlett, 2004)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • pollinates
Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • white butterfly parasites (Apanteles glomeratus)
  • parasitic flies (Phryxe vulgaris)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Cabbage butterflies are pollinators of crop plants. (Barlett, 2004)

  • Positive Impacts
  • pollinates crops

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Cabbage worms, the caterpillar form of cabbage butterflies, are crop pests. They may eat crop plants down to the stems. (Capinera, 2014)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status


Deena Hauze (author), Animal Diversity Web Staff.



Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

World Map


living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


a wetland area rich in accumulated plant material and with acidic soils surrounding a body of open water. Bogs have a flora dominated by sedges, heaths, and sphagnum.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature


union of egg and spermatozoan


an animal that mainly eats leaves.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.


A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


an animal that mainly eats nectar from flowers


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species


having more than one female as a mate at one time

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


offspring are all produced in a single group (litter, clutch, etc.), after which the parent usually dies. Semelparous organisms often only live through a single season/year (or other periodic change in conditions) but may live for many seasons. In both cases reproduction occurs as a single investment of energy in offspring, with no future chance for investment in reproduction.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


Ashby, J. 1974. A Study of Arthropod Predation of Pieris rapae L. Using Serological and Exclusion Techniques. Journal of Applied Ecology, 11(2): 419-425. Accessed June 19, 2020 at http://www.jstor.com/stable/2402195.

Barlett, T. 2004. "Species Pieris rapae - Cabbage White - Hodges#4197" (On-line). Bug Guide. Accessed June 19, 2020 at https://bugguide.net/node/view/3259.

Berger, C. 2001. "Seeing Colors in a New Light" (On-line). National Wildlife Federation. Accessed June 25, 2020 at https://www.nwf.org/Magazines/National-Wildlife/2002/Seeing-Colors-in-a-New-Light.

Capinera, J. 2014. "Imported cabbageworm; Pieris rapae (Linnaeus) (Insecta: Lepidoptera: Pieridae)" (On-line). Featured Creatures Entomology & Nematology. Accessed June 19, 2020 at http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/veg/leaf/imported_cabbageworm.htm.

Kingsolver, J. 2000. Feeding, Growth, and the Thermal Environment of Cabbage White Caterpillars, Pieris rapae L. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology: Ecological and Evolutionary Approaches, 73(5): 621-628. Accessed June 19, 2020 at https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/317758.

Richards, O. 1940. The Biology of the Small White Butterfly (Pieris rapae), with Special Reference to the Factors Controlling its Abundance. Journal of Animal Ecology, 9(2): 243-288. Accessed June 19, 2020 at http://www.jstor.com/stable/1459.