Cabbage White Butterfly Pieris rapae

Butterflies of Melbourne series


Wingspan 45mm. Above, white with black tip to forewing and base of wings, males with one black spot on forewing and females with two. Beneath, forewing white and hindwing yellow.

Upperside of female Cabbage White
Photographer: Ross Field / Source: Museum Victoria

Underside of female Cabbage White
Photographer: Ross Field / Source: Museum Victoria


Widespread and common in urban areas where it is a pest of cruciferous crops. It occurs in all States and Territories of Australia but it is more widespread in southern areas.


An introduced European species, it was first recorded in Victoria and Australia in 1937. The cylindrical green larvae can be a major pest of Brassica crops but the butterfly is also often common wherever cruciferous weeds occur. The larvae pupate on the host plant or wander off, often pupating on nearby fences or walls. The pupae are usually green and are supported by a central girdle of silk but can be greyer if they have pupated on wooden fences. In the 1940’s two species of braconid wasps were introduced as biological control agents of the Cabbage White Butterfly. These wasps, along with native wasp and fly parasites, have undoubtedly helped reduce the abundance and economic importance of this butterfly.

Larva of Cabbage White
Photographer / Source: M & P Coupar

Distribution and record dates for the Cabbage White near Melbourne (Source Butterfly Bioinformatics, Museum Victoria)

Distribution and record dates for the Cabbage White in Victoria (Source Butterfly Bioinformatics, Museum Victoria)

Further Reading

Braby, M. F. 2000. Butterflies of Australia: Their Identification, Biology and Distribution. CSIRO Publishing.

Common, I. F. B. and Waterhouse, D. F. 1981. Butterflies of Australia (revised edition). Angus & Robertson.

Comments (25)

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William Barton 1 December, 2009 20:06
For your information. Cabbage White Butterfly Pieris rapae common at the moment along bendigo creek between White hills and Epsom (Bendigo)- Photo taken if you want copy. Does not show up in your section of identify you own butterfly. cheers
Deanna Steele 8 April, 2011 09:53
This was realy helpful to me, for my school assignment. I scored and A, Thankyou museum of Victoria!
Jessica Ngo 12 June, 2011 21:42
Thanks for all this advise.One more thing um is their any Cabbage White Butterflies in Melbourne?
Meadhbh O'Donnell 21 October, 2011 05:08
My name is Meadhbh O'Donnell. I'm 17 and I live in Co.Donegal in Ireland. Im sitting my leaving Cert. this year and as one of my seven subjects I'm studying Agricultural Science. As part of this project we have to identify 10 animals that are used in agriculture today. My teacher suggested we wrote about the cabbage-white butterfly but i cant seem to find any relevant information on them. I know you dont usually respond to comments but i would be extremmely grateful if you could give me any information you can on the cabbage-white butterflys relevance to agriculture. I would really appreciate it. Thank you :)
Mandy White 24 October, 2011 12:42
Just wondering, we are doing a science project on the cabbage butterfly and we are trying to figure out if its a male or a female! It has one bright dot and a faded one.. does that mean its an old female that has layed its eggs and is about to die.. And what is the average size of a White Cabbage Butterfly or known as a Cabbage Moth.
Discovery Centre 27 October, 2011 12:11

Hi Mandy, the wingspan of the cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae) is 4.5 to 5 cm. Your butterfly is probably a female as the female has 2 dark spots on the fore-wing; the male has 1 black spot. There is a tendency for butterflies to have lighter markings early in the season, so this may be the reason for the lighter spot, or it could be due to natural variability. If your butterfly is mature the wing will have a pale yellow line on the back, and a line of yellow spots on each side.

Discovery Centre 31 October, 2011 11:36
Hi Meadhbh, there are a couple of links here and here with some information relating to the Cabbage White Butterfly and agriculture. For more in depth information you would need to contact the Department of Primary Industries who undertake research in Victoria into agriculture and related pests.
Lauri Smith 3 November, 2011 18:34
Hi. I am doing a project on the cabbage butterfly and I was wondering when does it breed and how long is its lifespan. This is really important because I can't find it on any other site.
Laura Sharma 3 November, 2011 18:37
Hi, I really need to find out the lifespan of the cabbadge butterfly. Thanks for your help in other aspects of the cabbage butterfly
Discovery Centre 4 November, 2011 12:23

Hi Lauri & Laura,

Thanks for your comments. You can find out more about the Cabbage White Butterfly in Michael F. Braby's book called Butterflies of Australia (CSIRO Publishing Melbourne, 2000, vol. 1) which contains a section with relevant information called ‘Life Style and Behaviour’ pp. 343-344. This would be accessible at most good libraries. Another website also has information about the life cycle of the butterfly: Pieris rapae.

Trevor Field 8 December, 2011 12:17
Have just been photographing some butterflies in our property (Wantirna Sth) including a cabbage white, Pieris rapae (Female)(I at last got one to stay still.) online found your site to confirm identity, but also noted the 'large white' Pieris brassicae Cabbage white. USA, et al size appeared to be the major diff. So i thought for people looking for names etc a comment (in the small white, re the fact that a different species is also called the 'same name. We have become more cosmopolitan in recent years.(in fact we had a Biol teacher from USAS for several yrs here at my old high School alongside me. so differences could be of benefit to some, you might agree!Ps I also had a good shot of an orchard swallowtail (Male) as well landing just as i finished with the white.
Maegan 7 March, 2012 17:36
I was wondering is the cabbage white butterfly the most common butterfly in the world and if not then what is please answer i need this information for a school project
Catalina 14 March, 2014 18:53
It is found alot of places so I think it might
Discovery Centre 9 March, 2012 11:10
Hi Maegan, it is hard to give a definitive answer on this question. Certainly the Cabbage White Butterfly is likely to be one of the most common butterfly species in the world. The Lepidopterist's Society suggest that the Painted Lady Buttefly, Vanessa cardui may be the most widespread in terms of its worldwide distribution.  
Damien 10 April, 2012 13:29
Hi, is there any information that I can relate Pieris Rapae to the climate change? I'm working on phenology of Pieris Rapae.
Discovery Centre 23 April, 2012 11:15

Hi Damien - this is an interesting question; we have checked with the Manager of our Live Exhibits team, and he has said the following: In our experience, despite its abundance, there's not that much information out there on Pieris rapae. There has been some work done on the potential effects of climate change on Australian butterflies by a number of researchers, but P.rapae doesn't appear to have been included in their research. The best person to ask might be Michael Braby at the Northern Territory Department of Natural Resources, Environment, the Arts and Sport.

We hope this helps

Inge Bremer 8 February, 2015 13:56
how large is the territory of the white butterfly? We have made decoys (little white pieces of plastic on a long wire) because we read that white butterflies are territorial. How many decoys we will need depends on the territory size, doesn't it? Thanks for Your help
Robbie 24 April, 2016 23:13
All states and territory's
Savannah 9 March, 2015 01:53
Hi, I was wondering if you could tell me the lifespan of a cabbage white butterfly? It's for a school worksheet. Thanks!
Discovery Centre 12 March, 2015 10:56
Hi Savannah, an adult Cabbage White lives for about 3 weeks, depending on conditions and available resources. 
Kayla man 29 March, 2015 13:24
Hey man, I was wondering when the white cabbage butterfly was introduced and what it's natural environment. Thanks
Discovery Centre 8 June, 2015 14:45
Hi Kayla, sorry for the delay, Cabbage White Butterflies (Pieris rapae) are found in Europe but have spread to many parts of the world and is found throughout Victoria other than some of the more arid areas. This species was first recorded in Australia in 1937.
Helen UK 4 April, 2016 15:54
Hi there Hi there! Is there any information about how/why this butterfly was first introduced to Australia, or would it be possible to let me know where the information was recorded in 1937? I'd love to find out a bit more about how the Cabbage white butterfly first got to Melbourne if possible!
Discovery Centre 8 April, 2016 16:41
Hi Helen, 

There are also reports of Cabbage White Butterflies (Pieris rapae) being in Melbourne as early as 1929. It’s not known exactly how they arrived in Melbourne, but this species is thought to spread as caterpillars or pupae on stored cabbages, particularly in cargo ships (this is how they’ve spread to other continents). It would definitely have been an accidental introduction, rather than a deliberate one as with other species. In cold weather, or if the cargo was cooled, the pupae could remain viable for several months before the adult(s) emerged at the new location.

Robbie 24 April, 2016 23:18
Hi I was looking on the Internet at pieris rapae pupae and a lot of them were browny grey with yellow cream bands running down the length of the body and I was wondering of this is a subspecies of pieris rapae or another species
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