Small White

Pieris rapae (PEE-err-iss RAY-pee)

Small White male - Solihull West Midlands 21.04.2014
Photo © Neil Freeman

38 - 57mm

Checklist Number

Family:PieridaeSwainson, 1820
Subfamily:PierinaeDuponchel, 1835
Tribe:PieriniSwainson, 1820
Genus:PierisSchrank, 1801
Species:rapae(Linnaeus, 1758)

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The Small White, along with the Large White, can claim the title of "Cabbage White" that is the bane of allotment holders all over the British Isles although the damage caused by this species is significantly less than that of the Large White. This is one of the most widespread species found in the British Isles and can be found almost everywhere. It is relatively scarce in northern Scotland but has been seen as far north as Orkney and Shetland. This species is also known to migrate to the British Isles from the continent, sometimes flying in great swarms, augmenting the resident population in the process.

It is believed that this butterfly can fly up to 100 miles in its lifetime although, undoubtedly, most butterflies will only travel a mile or two. Evidence of the mobility of this species comes from a misguided introduction in Melbourne in 1939. 3 years after its introduction, the species had reached the west coast of Australia some 1,850 miles away in only 25 generations. This species has been a pest in the continent ever since.

Taxonomy Notes

Zeller (1847) described the summer generation of P. rapae as f. aestiva, which is more heavily marked with black and more richly coloured. The nominate form, f. rapae, is used to describe the spring generation.

Pieris rapae

This species was first defined in Linnaeus (1758) as shown here (type locality: Sweden).

Adults of the spring brood have generally lighter markings than those of the summer brood.

Spring Brood

Small White (m) (spring brood) Stanwell Moor Middlesex 23rd May 2013

Photo © millerd

Small White male - Caterham, Surrey 5-May-2013

Male Underside
Photo © Vince Massimo

Small White female (first brood) - Crawley, Sussex 17-April-07

Photo © Vince Massimo

Small White - imago - f - ovipositing, Provence 26th April 2011

Female Underside
Photo © NickB

Photo Album ...

Summer Brood

Small White - Ffos-y-ffin - 03-08-2014

Photo © Wurzel

Small White Male (Second Brood) - Ifield, Crawley, Sussex 3-Aug-10

Male Underside
Photo © Vince Massimo

Small White female - Castle Hills Solihull 22.09.2013

Photo © Neil Freeman

Small White - imago - Pamber Forest - 28-Jun-04

Female Underside
Photo © Pete Eeles

Photo Album ...

Conservation Status

The status of this species is relatively-stable and so this widespread and common butterfly is not currently a species of conservation concern.

UK BAP StatusDistribution Trend (%)Population Trend (%)
Not Listed

The table above shows the distribution and population trends of species regularly found in the British Isles. The distribution trend represents a comparison between data for the periods 1995-1999 and 2005-2009. The information provided is taken from the Butterfly Conservation report The State of the UK's Butterflies 2011. The UK BAP status is taken from the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP) (2007 review).


This species is found in a wide variety of habitats and can turn up almost anywhere, including gardens, allotments, parks, meadows, open grassland, and hedgerows.



Click here to see the distribution of this species or here to see the distribution of this species together with specific site information overlaid.

Life Cycle

There are generally 2 generations each year, with 3 generations in good years. Second brood adults have noticeably darker markings that those of the first brood. First-brood adults typically emerge in late April, peaking around the middle of May and gradually tailing off through June. The second brood, which is always stronger than the first brood, starts to emerge in early July. However, in good years, the second brood may emerge in late June and give rise to a third brood.

The chart(s) above have been correlated with the phenology plot below, taken from the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme. The blue line gives average counts over the full data set from 1976 to date, and the red line gives the average for the last year.


This highly-mobile butterfly can turn up almost anywhere and is a familiar sight in gardens across much of the British Isles where it is attracted to various nectar sources, in particular those with white flowers.

Adults feed primarily on Thistles (Cirsium spp. and Carduus spp.). Bird's-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scriptus), Bugle (Ajuga reptans), Daisy (Bellis perennis), Dandelion (Taraxacum agg.), Fleabane (Pulicaria dysenterica), Greater Stitchwort (Stellaria holostea), Hawkweeds (Hieracium/Hypochoeris), Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi), Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea), Red Campion (Silene dioica), Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) and Sanfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia) are also used.

Photo Album ...


Eggs are laid singly, normally on the underside of a leaf. Foodplants in sheltered areas are preferred and gardens often provide ideal locations as a result. The eggs are pale when first laid, but gradually turn yellow and ultimately grey prior to hatching, this stage lasting as little as a week.

Mature Small White Ovum on Black Kale - Somerset - 27/07/12

Photo © William

Small White ovum - Caterham, Surrey 21-Aug-2013

Photo © Vince Massimo

Small White - ovum - Unknown location - 2003 [REARED] [Reg Fry]

Photo © Reg Fry

Small White ovum on Hairy Bittercress - Caterham, Surrey 29-July-2012

Photo © Vince Massimo

Photo Album ...


The larva eats its eggshell on hatching, and subsequently feeds on the foodplant, leaving tell-tale holes in the leaf which increase in size as the larva grows. On cabbages and other brassicas, the caterpillar moves into the heart of the plant as it grows. Older larvae tend to rest on the midrib of a leaf where it is well-camouflaged. This stage lasts around 3 weeks.

The primary larval foodplants are Crucifers (various) (Cruciferae family (various)) and Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus). Charlock (Sinapis arvensis), Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), Hedge Mustard (Sisymbrium officinale), Hoary Cress (Lepidium draba), Wild Cabbage (Brassica oleracea) and Wild Mignonette (Reseda lutea) are also used.

Small White larva (freshly moulted second instar) - Caterham, Surrey 12-Aug-2012

Photo © Vince Massimo

Small White larva (4th instar) - Caterham, Surrey 10-Oct-2013

Photo © Vince Massimo

Small White Caterpillar - Durham

Photo © Mandie

Small White larva (2nd instar) - Caterham, Surrey 10-Aug-2013

Photo © Vince Massimo

Photo Album ...


The pupa is usually formed away from the foodplant, such as on a fence, tree trunk or building, and is supported by a silk girdle and the cremaster. The pupa may even be found in greenhouses. The pupa has two main colour forms - green and brown - and those that do not go on to produce adults in the same year overwinter.

Small White larva completing pupation - Caterham, Surrey 2-Nov-2013

Photo © Vince Massimo

Small White Pupa, Female (8 hours before hatching) - Caterham, Surrey (Reared) 6-May-11

Photo © Vince Massimo

Small White pupa (15 hours old) - Caterham, Surrey 3-Nov-2013

Photo © Vince Massimo

Small White pupa (8 days old) - Caterham, Surrey 10-Nov-2013

Photo © Vince Massimo

Photo Album ...


Aberration in this species chiefly occurs in the upperside ground colour and the extent of the black markings. As usual in the 'whites' many aberrations are unique to either male or female specimens, and being seasonally dimorphic some aberrations are also specific to the generation or 'brood'.

Certain ground colour aberrations in this species have been found mainly in Scotland and Ireland. The aberration flava has been recorded chiefly in Ireland and specimens from the country were bred en masse by entomologists such as Newman in the early 20th century. These aberrations were popular with breeders and collectors and while scarce now in the wild a large number of these impressive forms can be found in collections.

There are 39 named aberrations known to occur in Britain.

Click here to see the aberration descriptions and images for this species.

Similar Species

Green-veined White

The Green-veined White and Small White are most easily distinguished by their undersides, where the Green-veined White has pronounced markings along the veins which are absent in the Small White.

Green-veined White (left) and Small White (right)

It is much more difficult to distinguish between the Green-veined White and Small White based on the upperside, since the amount of marking is highly variable. In general, the veins of the Green-veined White are more pronounced. Also, the marking at the apex of the forewing of a Green-veined White often extends down the along the edge of the forewing and is not contiguous. The marking at the apex of a Small White never extends down the edge of the forewing and is unbroken.

Green-veined White male (left) and Small White male (right)

Large White

In general, the Large White and Small White can be distinguished based on size. However, there are occasions when a "small" Large White flying with a "large" Small White causes confusion. In terms of uppersides, a distinguishing feature is the black marking at the apex of the forewing. This is generally more vertical than horizontal in the Large White, and more horizontal than vertical in the Small White.

Large White (left) and Small White (right)

Distinguishing these two species based on their underside is a little more difficult. Aside from size, there is sometimes a hint of the upperside markings where, again, those at the apex of the forewing can give an indication of the species.

Large White (left) and Small White (right)


No videos are currently available for this species.

The following links provide additional information on this butterfly.


The species description provided here references the following publications:

Duponchel (1835) Duponchel, P.A.J. (1835) Histoire naturelle des lépidoptères ou papillons de France, par M. J.-B. Godart. Continuée par P.-A.-J. Duponchel. Diurnes. Supplément aux tomes premier et deuxième.
Linnaeus (1758) Linnaeus, C. (1758) Systema Naturae. Edition 10.
Schrank (1801) Schrank, F. (1801) Fauna boica. Durchgedachte Geschichte der in Baiern einheimschen und zahmen Thiere.
Swainson (1820) Swainson, W. (1820) Zoological illustrations, or Original figures and descriptions of new, rare, or interesting animals : selected chiefly from the classes of ornithology, entomology, and conchology, and arranged on the principles of Cuvier and other modern zoologists (Vol.1).
Zeller (1847) Zeller, P.C. (1847) Isis von Oken.