Side-on view if white butterfly with cream underwings and a black spot visible onthe upper wing.

Small White on bramble flower. Photo: Ken Dolbear.

Together with the Large White, this is the butterfly known as the 'Cabbage White' and cursed by growers of cabbages. Easy to dismiss as 'another white', especially as it is a common butterfly, but close up it has fascinating colouration and veining.

Where to see

Habitat: This is a very mobile butterfly with no specific habitat other than being most common where its caterpillar's foodplants grow.

Caterpillar foodplants: In gardens: nastutiums and cultivated brassicas, especially cabbages and brussel sprouts, but also broccolli, kohl rahbi etc. In the wild: Wild Cabbage, Charlock, Hedge Mustard, Garlic Mustard, Hoary Cress, Wild Mignonette.

Best places: Can be seen almost anywhere. Look in areas where its caterpillar's food plants are available.

Reported from the following locations last year*:

When to see

Mainly from April onwards, though odd specimens may be seen earlier. There will be a second, larger, brood and possibly a third brood, allowing it to be seen as late as October or even November.

Sightings by month (last 5 years)*:

Sightings this year*:


Notes

Size: medium.

The Small White is not as toxic as the Large White, and is not as great a pest of cabbages. Gardeners might like to note that the main predators of the newly-hatched caterpillars are beetles and harvestmen, which are more abundant if there are some ‘weeds’ in your vegetable patch, and that spraying with pesticides kills off the predators as well as the caterpillars, and the caterpillars recover their numbers faster.

It is usually a smaller butterfly than the Large White, though there is a little cross-over. The easiest way to tell them apart is the black on the wingtips of the upper wing, which is less extensive on the Small White, and only extends horizontally along the top of the wing, not down its edge – imagine a painter just swishing their brush of black paint over the tip. The dark tips of the wings are paler in the first brood, even close to non-existent on some males.

The wing patterns of the Small and Large Whites are similar, but the Small tends to be duller. The male Small usually has a black spot in the middle of its forewings, which the Large male does not have. Underwings are pale yellow, dusted with grey, with the colour more pronounced on the hindwing, and being mainly present on the upper edge of the forewing.

The spots indicate male or female, not Large or Small. Females have more spots, while males have few or no spots.

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.