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European Cabbage White

Pieris rapae (Linnaeus, 1758)

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Adult photo (Click to enlarge)
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Adult photo (Click to enlarge)
Distribution Map
Ohio county distribution
Records by Month
Flight period (Temporal distribution)

STATUS: Naturalized resident; common.

DISTRIBUTION/RANGE: Statewide (see map). This was the first butterfly to be recorded from all 88 Ohio counties by the Ohio Survey of Lepidoptera.

HABITAT: This species inhabits virtually any open area, but particularly old fields, pastures, vacant lots, roadsides, and gardens. This species is also encountered within woodlands in early spring.

HOSTPLANT(S): Primarily species of cultivated and wild mustards. In Ohio this species has been found and reared on garlic mustard and cut-leaved toothwort, and has been reared on horseradish (Studebaker and Studebaker, 1967), and a variety of cole crops (such as cabbage, kohlrabi, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and collards). It has also been observed ovipositing on water cress, and winter cress. This butterfly undoubtedly uses other mustards as well. Saunders et al (1875) reported this butterfly on mignonette, a host record that needs to be verified.

ADULT ENERGY RESOURCES: Alfalfa, red clover, white clover, white sweet clover, yellow sweet clover, dame's rocket, black mustard, cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, shrubby cinquefoil, wood sorrel, loosestrife, Indian-hemp, seff-heal, catnip, giant hyssop, peppermint, swamp milkweed, blue vervain, whorled rosin-weed, wing-stem, sunflower, dandelion, bur-marigold, chicory, horseweed, Canada thistle, Aster spp., ironweed, Joe-Pye weed, spotted Joe-Pye weed, common boneset, ground-ivy, red henbit, sweet alyssum, teasel, and loosestrife. Adults also take moisture from mud puddles and damp soil.

FLIGHT PERIOD: This species produces continuous and overlapping broods throughout the summer (see graph). Although it is difficult to tell from the histogram, there are three to five generations a year. We have records for this species from every month but December and February.

SIMILAR SPECIES: The Mustard White (Pieris napi) and the West Virginia White (Pieris virginiensis) are similar.

GENERAL COMMENTS: Accidentally introduced into Quebec around 1860 (Scudder, 1887), this European species rapidly spread throughout North America. Its spread through Ohio is well documented. It was first reported in the vicinity of Cleveland in 1873 (Webster, 1893), where it was considered common by 1875. This butterfly reached western Ohio and the vicinity of Cincinnati by at least 1875 (Saunders et al, 1875; Duty, unpublished notes). By 1878 it was regarded as very abundant in Southwestern Ohio (Duty, 1878). By 1882 this butterfly was already considered a serious economic pest (Anonymous, 1883). Today, P. rapae is our most common and widespread butterfly.

Although this species feeds on a wide variety of cruciferous plants, it is particularly fond of cole crops (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, etc), upon which it is a destructive pest. Virtually any gardener who plants these crops will encounter the larvae of this butterfly. The myriad of common names reflect the pest status of this species (cabbage white, European cabbage white, imported cabbageworm, cabbage moth, and cabbage butterfly) (Albrecht and Watkins, 1983).

This is one of the first butterflies to emerge in the spring and flies continuously until the first major frost. The flight of this species is relatively slow, although it can be quite rapid and erratic when disturbed.

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