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

Small White on bramble flower. Photo: Ken Dolbear.

Family: Whites
Size: Medium   Wingspan: 48mm

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 broccoli, 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.

Distribution map

Small White was recorded from these 1km squares in Dorset (2015-19).

  •     1 record
  •     2-9 records
  •     10+ records
Explore the Atlas to see historical distribution trends for this species.

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)*

Compare flight times for all species.

This year and last*

Browse the sightings archive.

What to look for

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.

Overwinter stage: Chrysalis

Photo gallery

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Find more Small White related content, including news and photos.
*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.