Raising British Butterflies 03

The Cabbage Eaters

The Large White Pieris brassicae, often erroneously referred to as the Cabbage White, and the Small White Pieris rapae are often cursed by gardeners, and generally reguarded as a pest. However because of this they make a good pair of butterflies for the complete novice to start with and gain some competence with before moving on to other less easy species. The other 2 cabbage eaters are the Green-veined White Pieris napi and the Orange Tip Anthocharis cardamines both prefer wild members of the cabbage family over cultivated varieties and therefore are not a nuisance to gardeners and for this reason you may feel happier breeding them. These four butterflies are all members of the family Pieridae and are commonly called 'Whites'. We do have other members of the Pieridae in Britain but they do not feed on cabbages.

Whichever ones you decide to rear you will need both food plants and a cage. The food plants should be alive and growing in pots. The best sort of cage is one about 40 cm high by 50 cm by 30 cm, it should have a solid wooden floor and mesh sides and top. You will have to feed your Butterflies an artificial nectar, a 10% mixture of honey in water will do. You can give this to the Butterflies by soaking a piece of cotton wool in it and placing it on the top of the mesh, or in the cut off base of a yoghurt pot, providing it is in a sunny part of the cage. As this dries out do not just rewet it because the water dries out and the honey doesn't, thus it will get more and more concentrated and become harder for the butterflies to sip, too strong a solution is also likely to cause digestive problems and may even crystallise in their proboscis preventing further feeding, it is best to replace it at least everyday.



All Pierids stand upright in their pupae and are supported around their middle by a girdle of silk.

Large White, in the wild they emerge in late April early May depending on the weather. The female has dark spots and a short dark bar on the forewing which allows her to be easily distinguished from the male. The eggs are laid in batches of from 3-4 to over 100 on the underside of the leaves. The caterpillars, which are a sort of greeny-yellow with black speckles and marks, hatch in about 1 week. For the first 2 instars they live communally, but after this they spread out and feed singly. It takes them about 4 weeks to reach full size, whereupon they pupate, generally on the sides of buildings or other upright flatish surfaces. The adults emerge after about 2 weeks and seek nectar for a short while before mating and laying a second generation. This second generation is on the wing by September and in some years there may be a third brood which pupates in late October. Large Whites can be fed on any commonly cultivated cabbage.

The Small White, has a very similar lifecycle to the Large White with the following differences, the eggs are laid singly, the caterpillars are nearly all green and feed singly. The caterpillars tend to burrow into the heart of the cabbage when feeding, the Large White caterpillars feed on the outer leaves. The first generation pupates on the cabbage plant but the second pupates on walls like its larger cousin. You will find it easiest if you use small hearting cabbages.

The Green-veined White, prefers damper shaded habitats such as woodland rides and hedgerows to gardens. The female lays her eggs singly on the undersides of the leaves of native members of the cabbage family such Cuckoo Flower, Charlock and Garlic Mustard, however in captivity it is probably just as easy to rear it on Horseradish. The life cycle is again similar to the Small White as is the colouration of the caterpillars.

The Orange-Tip likes similar situations to, and uses similar plants as the Green-veined White, except that the eggs are laid near the top of the plant just under the flower heads, they are green at first but soon turn bright orange. The caterpillars feed first on the flowers and then on the developing seed pods. They feed singly one per plant and are carnivorous of any other caterpillar on their plant. For this reason you have to make sure that each plant only has one caterpillar to it, if the plants are tall and branch near the bottom you can have one on each stem providing there are enough flower heads available. They have only one generation per year and once the larvae have pupated the pupae should be collected up and stored in a frost free place such as a old wooden shed. This also applies to the last pupae of the other three Cabbage Eaters, all of which over-winter as pupae.

Next spring the pupae can be brought out and allowed to emerge naturally. It is always a good idea to release the Butterflies close to where you found their parents.



For more about Butterflies see the main Butterfly Page.

Book Reviews

Breeding butterflies and Moths, by Ekkehard Friedrich




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