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Contents > Butterflies > Resident > White Butterfly

White Butterfly

Pepe Ma

Pieris rapae

Distribution & Status White Butterfly Distrubtion Map

Extensive Found Nationwide, including the Chatham and sub-Antarctic Islands.

iNaturalist NZ
Observations map

Scientific Classification More info











Also Known As;

Cabbage White and Small White


Suspected that it first arrived in New Zealand in the summer of 1929-30, it was first recorded in Napier in March 1930. The Small White quickly spread all over New Zealand by the autumn or 1936. However there seems to be 'jumps' in its dispersal over those few years, for example the first specimen in the South Island was in the port town of Timaru, not in the Marlborough region as one would expect by natural dispersion. So the logical conclusion is that some specimens where transported around the country along with our shared food of the cabbage family. This is the way it is suspected that the White Butterfly made it to New Zealand (just like North America in the years before and Australia in the years after). However, no one is sure whether the New Zealand stock came from Hawaii, North America, Europe, Asia or a combination. But most likely it travelled as a pupa in diapause as this would give it the best chance of surviving in a cold store. It is recorded as having up to 5 generations a year in the north and 2 generations in the south, but I think that is more like 6 in the north and 3 in the south. The White Butterfly is considered a pest, so several parasites (Ichneumon's, the wasps Pteromalus Puparum and Apanteles glomeratus) have being released to control it, but they are also effecting other species, especially the Red and Yellow Admirals. It has characteristics not seen in other New Zealand Butterflies, firstly the aforementioned diapause, a seasonal difference in size and less black marking on the spring generation. The Maori name is translated from the English name.

Ovum  In English

Creamy colour when laid and deepening to yellow before hatching. It is tall in shape with approximately 12 ridges. Laid singularly on foodplant, usually on the underside of a leaf. It takes from 6-10 days to hatch on average, but will quicker in hotter conditions or slower in cooler conditions. The shell is eaten by the newly hatched larva for it's first meal.

Larvae  In English

Velvety green with light stripe along back. It has being known to be dormant over winter. The larva will generally stay on the same leaf as the egg was oviposited until the 3rd instar when it will move towards the centre of the plant, where it remains until pupation. The larvae live about 23-25 days, with about 4 days between each instar apart from the 5th instar which lasts about 8 days. Grows up to 34mm when fully grown.

Pupa  In English

Green to yellow-brown. Attached by cremaster and girdle on foodplant leaves or nearby structures. The autumn generation will go into diapause for 3 to 5 months.

Imago  In English

The spring generation has a 38-43mm wingspan and the summer generations have a 48-50mm wingspan. it's flight is swift and jerky, but will fly on overcast days, even in drizzle when most other butterflies call it a day. It seldom settles in one spot for long, before flying on. On a sunny day the females will alternate between feeding and ovipositing. Both genders have a black wingtip. The male has one spot on its forewing and the female has two. Other differences are that underside of hind wing is a paler yellow on the male and the male has androconial scales which are almost invisible as they are white too.


Everywhere, especially gardens and market gardens where it's a major pest. Breeds only at lower altitudes, but is found high in the mountains.

Food Plants

Cabbage, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Swedes, Turnips and Nasturtiums to name a few common foodplants, in fact, it will feed on pretty much any Cruciferous plant which contains Mustard oil.

Lifecycle of the White Butterfly

Contents > Butterflies > Resident > White Butterfly