Large White

Pieris brassicae (PEE-err-iss BRA-si-ky)

Large White female - Caterham, Surrey 29-April-2014
Photo © Vince Massimo

Male: 58mm
Female: 63mm

Checklist Number

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

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The Large White is one of two species (the other being the Small White) that can claim the title of "Cabbage White" that is the bane of allotment holders all over the British Isles. The larva of this species can reach pest proportions, and decimate cabbages to the point that they become mere skeletons of their former selves. The female is distinguished from the male by the presence of 2 black spots, together with a black dash, on the forewing upperside. This is one of the most widespread species found in the British Isles and can be found almost anywhere, including Orkney and Shetland. This species is also known to migrate to the British Isles from the continent, augmenting the resident population in the process.

Taxonomy Notes

Stephens (1827) is responsible for the naming of f. chariclea to describe the spring brood, although it was originally a name attributed to a new species, closely related to P. brassicae. According to Goodson & Read (1969), the name is, without question, given to a description of the spring generation of P. brassicae. f. brassicae, the nominate form, is then used to describe the summer generation.

In describing P. chariclea, Stephens makes comparisons with P. brassicae: "The chief points of discrimination between this species [P. chariclea] and the preceding insect [P. brassicae] consist in its inferior size, the dissimilar colour of the apical spot on the anterior wings above, and the integrity of its inner edge, the pale cilia with which it is fringed, and the deeper colour, and more thickly irrorated under surface of the posterior wings: which characters, taken collectively, appear fully sufficient to warrant its separation as a species, exclusively of its period of flight".

Stephens goes on to make some misinformed hypotheses of how P. chariclea could simply represent the spring brood of P. brassicae: "Now, if it be a vernal [spring] brood of Po. Brassicae alone, by what process do the colour and the shape of the markings become changed? and whence its inferior size? The first question has been answered, at least so far as regards the colour, upon the supposition that the solar rays are not sufficiently powerful at the period when the insect is produced, to produce the intense hue so conspicuous in the supposed aestival [summer] brood ... With respect to the other question - the inferiority of size - that has been answered upon the presumption that the animal diminishes in bulk from the increased period that it is supposed to continue in the pupa; that is, from September to April: whereas the aestival brood remains in that state a few days only".

Pieris brassicae

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

Males of the spring brood have greyer wingtips than those of the summer brood. Similarly, females of the spring brood are lighter in colour than those of the summer brood, which have very pronounced black markings.

Spring Brood

Large White (m) (spring brood) Harmondsworth Moor Middlesex 2nd June 2013

Photo © millerd

Large White Male - First Brood, Crawley, Sussex 21-April-06

Male Underside
Photo © Vince Massimo

Large White female - Caterham, Surrey 28-April-2014

Photo © Vince Massimo

Large White female - Chaldon, Surrey 6-June-2010

Female Underside
Photo © Vince Massimo

Photo Album ...

Summer Brood

Large White-Newdigate Surrey-30.08.2014

Photo © Buchan Boy

Large White - Martin Down - 8 Aug 2010

Male Underside
Photo © Clive

Large White Female (Second Brood) - Crawley, Sussex 17-Sept-08

Photo © Vince Massimo

Large White (female), Ebernoe (29 July 2011)

Female Underside
Photo © Mark Colvin

Photo Album ...

Conservation Status

Despite a slight decline in its fortunes, 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

This butterfly normally has 2 broods each year, and there is often a 3rd brood. The first brood emerges in April, with a peak in May. In typical years, their offspring emerge in July and fly through August and into early September.

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.


The Large White has a powerful flight and is able to migrate over large distances. It is one of our most widespread species, and a common sight in gardens throughout the British Isles.

Adults feed primarily on Thistles (Cirsium spp. and Carduus spp.). Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scriptus), Bugle (Ajuga reptans), Carline Thistle (Carlina vulgaris), Dandelion (Taraxacum agg.), Devil's-bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis), Field Scabious (Knautia arvensis), Fleabane (Pulicaria dysenterica), Greater Stitchwort (Stellaria holostea), Knapweeds (Centaurea spp.), Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi), Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea), Sanfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia) and Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) are also used.

Photo Album ...


The yellow skittle-shaped eggs are laid on both surfaces of a leaf, in groups of 40 or so, and often up to 100 - laid at a rate of 4 per minute. Each egg is laid directly on the foodplant (rather than on top of other eggs) and also abuts other eggs, resulting in an organised egg mass. An individual female may lay up to 600 eggs in total. The eggs hatch in a week or two, depending on temperature.

Large White ova on Pea - just laid - 4th - August - 2013

Photo © Maximus

Large White - ovum - Thatcham - 24-Jul-14

Photo © Pete Eeles

Large White - ovum - Thatcham - 14-May-07 (4) {REARED}

Photo © Pete Eeles

Large White, Liphook, 27/07/2013

Photo © Pauline

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The larva eats its eggshell on hatching and is gregarious, feeding alongside its siblings until fully-grown. The larvae accumulate poisonous oils in their bodies as they feed, which explains why would-be predators are deterred from feeding on such visible larvae. Unlike our other "cabbage white", the Small White, the larvae of the Large White prefer to feed on the outer leaves of the foodplant, whereas the larvae of the Small White prefer to feed on leaves closer to the heart of the foodplant. The larva has 4 moults in total.

This species is particularly vulnerable to a parasitic ichneumon fly, Apanteles glomeratus, which deposits its eggs inside young larvae. The fly larvae feed on the insides of their host, avoiding vital organs, and, when their host is full-grown, break through the skin and pupate within yellow cocoons on or near their host.

The primary larval foodplant is Crucifers (various) (Cruciferae family (various)). Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) and Wild Mignonette (Reseda lutea) are also used.

Large White larva preparing to pupate - Caterham, Surrey 24-Aug-2013

Photo © Vince Massimo

Large White larva (14 days old) - Caterham, Surrey 29-Sept-11

Photo © Vince Massimo

Large White larvae (12 days old) - Caterham, Surrey 27-Sept-11

Photo © Vince Massimo

Large White larvae (6 days old) - Caterham, Surrey 21-Sept-11

Photo © Vince Massimo

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After wandering for some time, the larva finds a suitable pupation site that is typically away from the foodplant, such as fences, tree trunks, and under any overhang on a building, such as its eaves. The pupa is attached by a silk girdle and the cremaster. This stage lasts around 2 weeks for pupae that produce the summer brood. This stage lasts around 8 months for pupae which overwinter and that produce the spring brood.

Large White completing pupation - Caterham, Surrey 24-Aug-2013

Photo © Vince Massimo

Large White larva commencing pupation - Caterham, Surrey 24-Aug-2013

Photo © Vince Massimo

Large White pupa (male) 12 days before emergence - Caterham, Surrey 14-April-2014

Photo © Vince Massimo

Large White pupating - Caterham, Surrey 24-Aug-2013

Photo © Vince Massimo

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Description to be completed.

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

Similar Species

Green-veined White

Description to be completed.

Small 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)


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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.
Goodson & Read (1969) Goodson, A.L. and Read. D.K. (1969) Aberrational and Subspecific Forms of British Lepidoptera (unpublished work, British Museum of Natural History) .
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.
Stephens (1827) Stephens, J.E. (1827) Illustrations of British Entomology (Haustellata Vol.1).
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).