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Butterfly taxonomy (classification) The skippers The swallowtails The whites The hairstreaks, coppers and blues. Includes the Duke of Burgundy. The nymphalids, fritillaries and browns. Includes the Monarch.
Small White (m) (spring brood) Stanwell Moor Middlesex 23rd May 2013
Wingspan
38 - 57mm
Photo © millerd
Small White

Pieris rapae
Number: 58.007
B&F No.: 1550
Family:Pieridae (Duponchel, 1835)
Subfamily:Pierinae (Duponchel, 1835)
Tribe:Pierini (Duponchel, 1835)
Genus:Pieris (Schrank, 1801)
Subgenus: 
Species:rapae (Linnaeus, 1758)
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  Introduction  

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 male - Guildford, Surrey - 12th March - 2014
Male
Photo © Maximus
Small White male - Caterham, Surrey 5-May-2013
Male Underside
Photo © Vince Massimo
Small White female (first brood) - Crawley, Sussex 17-April-07
Female
Photo © Vince Massimo
Small White - imago - f - ovipositing, Provence 26th April 2011
Female Underside
Photo © NickB

Summer Brood


Small White (m) Stanwell Moor, Middlesex  10th July 2011
Male
Photo © millerd
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
Female
Photo © nfreem
Small White, female, Chiddingfold Wood, Surrey 225
Female Underside
Photo © hideandseek

  Phenology  

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.


  Habitat  

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.

  Larval Foodplants  

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.

  Nectar Sources  

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.

  Imago  

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.

Spring Brood


Small White female (first brood) - Crawley, Sussex 17-April-07
Photo © Vince Massimo
17-Apr-2007
Small White Male - First Brood, Ballard Down, Dorset 18-May-08
Photo © Vince Massimo
18-May-2008
small white oviposition
Photo © ronniethepoo
Small White Clive Burrows [Clive Burrows]
Photo © Clive Burrows
Small White male - Caterham, Surrey 5-May-2013
Photo © Vince Massimo
05-May-2013
Small White - imago - Thatcham - 15-May-10 (1)
Photo © Pete Eeles
15-May-2010
Small White (reared) - Somerset - 19/05/13
Photo © William
Small White - male - imago - MRC 19th April 2011
Photo © NickB
19-Apr-2011
Small White - male- imago- MRC 29th March 2011
Photo © NickB
Small White - imago - f - ovipositing, Provence 26th April 2011
Photo © NickB
Small White male (wing scales detail) - Caterham, Surrey 5-May-2013
Photo © Vince Massimo
05-May-2013
Small White - imago - Woolhampton Gravel Pits - 21-Apr-12
Photo © Pete Eeles
Small White - imago - Woolhampton Gravel Pits - 21-Apr-12-1
Photo © Pete Eeles
Small White male (First brood) - Solihull West Midlands 10.05.2013
Photo © nfreem
10-May-2013
Small White male - Caterham, Surrey 5-May-2013
Photo © Vince Massimo
05-May-2013
Small White (m) (spring brood) Stanwell Moor Middlesex 23rd May 2013
Photo © millerd
23-May-2013
Small White male - Guildford, Surrey - 12th March - 2014
Photo © Maximus
12-Mar-2014
Small White - Five Rivers - 08-04-2014
Photo © Wurzel
08-Apr-2014

Summer Brood


Small White Female - Second Brood, Crawley, Sussex 29-July-05
Photo © Vince Massimo
29-Jul-2005
Small White Male - Second Brood, Birling Gap, Sussex 25-August-06
Photo © Vince Massimo
25-Aug-2006
Small White - imago - Hartslock - 15-Aug-06 (0702)
Photo © Pete Eeles
15-Aug-2006
Small White - imago - Pamber Forest - 05-Jul-04
Photo © Pete Eeles
05-Jul-2004
Small White - imago - Pamber Forest - 28-Jun-04
Photo © Pete Eeles
28-Jun-2004
Small White - imago - Stockbridge Down - 01-Aug-07 (1112)
Photo © Pete Eeles
01-Aug-2007
Small White - imago - Stockbridge Down - 08-Jul-10 (1)
Photo © Pete Eeles
08-Jul-2010
Small White Male (Second Brood) - Ifield, Crawley, Sussex 3-Aug-10
Photo © Vince Massimo
03-Aug-2010
Small White (m) Stanwell Moor, Middlesex  10th July 2011
Photo © millerd
10-Jul-2011
Small White (m) Stanwell Moor, Middlesex  20th September 2010
Photo © millerd
20-Sep-2010
Small White Female - Caterham, Surrey 22-Sept-12
Photo © Vince Massimo
22-Sep-2012
Small White - Bentley Wood - 21-07-2013
Photo © Wurzel
21-Jul-2013
Small White - Solihull West Midlands 24.07.2013
Photo © nfreem
24-Jul-2013
Small White - Solihull West Midlands 27.07.2013
Photo © nfreem
27-Jul-2013
Small White (f) summer brood: Wilberfoss, Yorkshire 8th August 2013
Photo © millerd
08-Aug-2013
Small White - female - Shipton Bellinger - 13-08-2013
Photo © Wurzel
13-Aug-2013
Small White (summer brood) Stanwell Moor Middlesex 28th August 2013
Photo © millerd
28-Aug-2013
Small White male - Caterham, Surrey 1-Sept-2013
Photo © Vince Massimo
01-Sep-2013
Small White (summer brood) Staines Moor Middlesex 5th September 2013
Photo © millerd
05-Sep-2013
Small White - female - Martin Down- 27-08-2013
Photo © Wurzel
27-Aug-2013
Small White female - Castle Hills Solihull 22.09.2013
Photo © nfreem
22-Sep-2013
Small White, female, Chiddingfold Wood, Surrey 225
Photo © hideandseek
03-Sep-2013

  Aberrations  

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 a full list of aberrations for this species.

Unclassified Aberrations


Small White aberrant - Chantry Hill, West Sussex - 22.9.2010 [Colin Knight]
Photo © Colin Knight
Small White (f) unusual upperside yellow scaling; 3rd(?) brood; Denbies 30th September 2010
Photo © millerd
30-Sep-2010

  Ovum  

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.


Small White - ovum - Unknown location - 2003 [REARED] [Reg Fry]
Photo © Reg Fry
Mature Small White Ovum on Black Kale - Somerset - 27/07/12
Photo © William
Small White ovum on Hairy Bittercress - Caterham, Surrey 29-July-2012
Photo © Vince Massimo
29-Jul-2012
Small White - ovum - Thatcham - 24-Jul-12
Photo © Pete Eeles
Small White ovum - Caterham, Surrey 21-Aug-2013
Photo © Vince Massimo
21-Aug-2013

  Larva  

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.


Small White Larva (Reared) awaiting pupation - Caterham, Surrey 22-Aug-10
Photo © Vince Massimo
22-Aug-2010
Small White Caterpillar - Durham
Photo © Mandie
Small White - larva - Thatcham - 24-Aug-08 (1)
Photo © Pete Eeles
24-Aug-2008
Small White Larva (Reared) - Caterham, Surrey 12-Aug-10
Photo © Vince Massimo
12-Aug-2010
Small White Larva on Garlic Mustard - Caterham, Surrey 9-Aug-10
Photo © Vince Massimo
09-Aug-2010
Small White - larva - Thatcham - 04-Oct-11 (1) {REARED}
Photo © Pete Eeles
Small White larva - Caterham, Surrey 18-Aug-2012
Photo © Vince Massimo
18-Aug-2012
Small White larva (early instar) - Caterham, Surrey 10-Aug-2012
Photo © Vince Massimo
10-Aug-2012
Small White larva (early instar) - Caterham, Surrey 10-Aug-2012
Photo © Vince Massimo
10-Aug-2012
Small White larva (freshly moulted second instar) - Caterham, Surrey 12-Aug-2012
Photo © Vince Massimo
12-Aug-2012
Small White larva (first instar) - Caterham, Surrey 5-Aug-2012
Photo © Vince Massimo
05-Aug-2012
Small White larva (first instar) - Caterham, Surrey 5-Aug-2012
Photo © Vince Massimo
05-Aug-2012
Small White - larva - Thatcham - 13-Aug-12 (6) [REARED]
Photo © Pete Eeles

  Pupa  

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 Male Pupa (Reared) 2 hours before hatching - Caterham, Surrey 24-Aug-10
Photo © Vince Massimo
24-Aug-2010
Small White - pupa - Unknown location - 2003 [REARED] [Reg Fry]
Photo © Reg Fry
Small White Female Pupa (Brown Form)-(Reared) 8 hours before hatching - Caterham, Surrey 30-Aug-10
Photo © Vince Massimo
30-Aug-2010
Small White Female Pupa (Brown Form)-(Reared) 36 hours before hatching - Caterham, Surrey 29-Aug-10
Photo © Vince Massimo
29-Aug-2010
Small White Female Pupa (Green Form) - (Reared) 1 day before hatching - Caterham, Surrey 29-Aug-10
Photo © Vince Massimo
29-Aug-2010
Small White Female Pupa (Green Form) - (Reared) 2 hours before hatching - Caterham, Surrey 30-Aug-10
Photo © Vince Massimo
30-Aug-2010
Small White Female Pupa (Green Form) - (Reared) 2 days before hatching - Caterham, Surrey 28-Aug-10
Photo © Vince Massimo
28-Aug-2010
Small White Pupa, Female (2 hours before hatching) - Caterham, Surrey (Reared) 6-May-11
Photo © Vince Massimo
06-May-2011
Empty Small White Pupa - Caterham, Surrey (Reared) 7-May-11
Photo © Vince Massimo
07-May-2011
Small White Pupa, Female (8 hours before hatching) - Caterham, Surrey (Reared) 6-May-11
Photo © Vince Massimo
06-May-2011
Small White Pupa, Female (1 day before hatching) - Caterham, Surrey (Reared) 5-May-11
Photo © Vince Massimo
05-May-2011
Small White Pupa (Brown Form) - Caterham, Surrey (Reared) 24-Aug-10
Photo © Vince Massimo
24-Aug-2010
Small White Pupa (Brown Form) - Caterham, Surrey (Reared) 24-Aug-10
Photo © Vince Massimo
24-Aug-2010
Small White pupa (green form) - Caterham, Surrey 23-Oct-2011
Photo © Vince Massimo
23-Oct-2011
Small White - pupa - Thatcham - 08-Sep-12
Photo © Pete Eeles
Small White - pupa - Thatcham - 26-Aug-12
Photo © Pete Eeles

  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)
  Videos  

No videos are currently available for this species.

  Sites  

Click here to see the distribution of this species overlaid with specific site information. Alternatively, select one of the sites listed below.

Sites
Ashampstead Common, Aylesbeare Common, Darley, Devil's Ditch, Fleam Dyke, Glenarm, Hounslow Heath LNR, Howardian Local Nature Reserve, Kinghorn Loch Path, Lavernock, Malling Down, Mayford Pond, Meanwood Park, Millenium Arboretum, Moors Valley Country Park, Moss Field, Mynydd Marian, Nupend Wood, Old Down, Basingstoke, Roudsea Wood NNR, Strumpshaw Fen, Tophill Low, Viking Field/LesleySears, Winsdon Hill

  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 TrendPopulation Trend
Not ListedStableDecrease

From The State of Butterflies in Britain and Ireland and the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP) (2007 review).


  Links  

The following links provide additional information on this butterfly.

  References  

The species description provided here references the following publications:

ReferenceDetails
Linnaeus (1758) Linnaeus, C.: Systema Naturae. Edn.10. 1758.
Zeller (1847) Zeller, P.C.: Isis von Oken. 1847.

  Copyright © Peter Eeles 2002-2014
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