Sunday, August 24, 2014

Household Bugs -- Cabbage Butterflies

Cabbage Butterfly or Cabbage Moth?

Okay, this isn't exactly a "household bug," but this time of year cabbage white butterflies are everywhere, and they're after the plants in your garden. So for this post we're including the garden: call it "House and Garden Bugs."

So this insect, properly called, is the "imported cabbage white butterfly," also known by its scientific Latin name, Pieris rapae. My dad used to call them "cabbage moths," which is kind of a cool name for a band but totally inaccurate in terms of taxonomy (the science of working out groupings of animals and other things). The cabbage white is a plain white butterfly that is part of a rather large family of other butterflies that are also often white or pale yellow. The Pieridae include some very beautiful species, and none rise to the level of world-wide pest that the cabbage white does.

Here's a nice photo of this butterfly in flight:

public domain images at

As with nearly all butterflies and moths, it's the larva, or caterpillar, that does most of the eating, and therefore most of the damage. In the case of P. rapae, the caterpillar is exceedingly good at not being seen on the food plant. It's a marvel of cryptic coloring. If you've looked everywhere for the thing that's eating big holes in the leaves of your kale, cabbage, and chard, and can't find anything, it's not because no one's there. It's because they blend in with the green of the leaf to the point of invisibility. There's a reason this species has been so successful!

Here's a picture of a P. rapae caterpillar:

                                                       public domain images at

See what I mean? This little sucker is almost invisible.

So if you'd really like to eliminate cabbage white caterpillars from your garden, get a bucket of soapy water and your reading glasses. Get out there and real LOOK for the little guys. They can be tiny, but a full-grown one is about an inch long. Find em, pinch em, drop em in the soapy water, and dispose.

See more about this species right here: Caterpillars Eating Cabbage Plants

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