Whtie butterfly with black tips to wings on a bright pink flower

Large White. Photo: Lyn Pullen

A very common butterfly in Dorset. With its relation, the Small White, dubbed 'cabbage whites' for their caterpillar's love of munching the brassicas in gardens.

Where to see

Habitat: Can be found almost anywhere, but especially where its caterpillars' food plants are cultivated or grow.

Caterpillar foodplants: Brassicas: oil-seed rape, cabbages, brussel sprouts. Also nasturtiums. In the wild may also use wild mignonette and sea-kale.

Best places: Widespread, but especially look in gardens where brassicas or nasturtiums are growing, allotments and fields of oil-seed rape.

Reported from the following locations last year*:

When to see

Can be seen between February and November, but the first brood emerges in late April and May. The second, much larger, brood is on the wing from July to September, and there may even be a third brood.

Sightings by month (last 5 years)*:

Sightings this year*:


Notes

Size: large.

A large butterfly, but often ignored as ‘just a cabbage white’. Stop and look at it, though, and it is an attractive insect, and there is some evidence that it a source of a protein with anti-cancer properties.

The Large White makes use of toxins for protection. The eggs are laid with a small dose of mustard oil (cabbages are members of the mustard family), on plants with produce further toxins which are safely ingested by the caterpillars, and which make them less attractive to predation by birds. Whether your chickens will eat the Large White caterpillars from your cabbages seems to be uncertain: some people say they will, some say the won’t.

The main species with which it can be confused is the Small White, which is usually smaller, though that’s not much help unless they are seen together! Look for the markings on the top side of the forewings and you will see that the Large White has a black tip which extends down the side of the wing, while the Small White just has a lesser black mark only across the top of the wingtip.

Don’t think that the spots on the wings are indicative of species – they actually indicate the sex of the butterfly. Males have little or no spot, while females have much more pronounced spots.

There is a variation in the density of the black markings between the first brood in the spring. The earlier males have greyer wingtip markings and the females are generally lighter.

It is said it likes to nectar on white flowers, but it will accept a wide range of colours, as can be seen in the photos below.

This is a butterfly whose chrysalis you may see, as the caterpillars wander away from their food plants to pupate, and will climb up the sides of buildings and attach themselves under ledges.

Photo gallery

Click thumbnails to view larger images.

*Please note: The charts shown on this page are drawn only from casual sightings submitted to this website. Records from this website will be added to a lot more data collected throughout the year and used to compile the five-yearly Butterfly Atlases for Dorset and the UK.