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Beware the Lady-in-White

Looks can be deceiving

2-Minute Read

Pretty, right? Surely no harm could come from such lovely looking butterflies…. Right? Wrong. So wrong. Looks can be very deceiving. These butterflies are definitely bad news in the garden.

Cabbage White butterflies, Pieris rapae, are an introduced pest species in the family Pieridae. Originally from Europe, these pretty butterflies can cause havoc in your garden if you are growing anything in the brassica plant family (broccoli, cabbage, kale, mustards, etc.). Technically, its not actually the butterfly that causes the damage – they just set the stage by making the caterpillars, aka evil baby butterflies, that destroy your crop.

Cabbage White caterpillars

The caterpillars aren’t nearly as pretty as the butterflies. They’re kinda just greenish-blue blobby looking things. And boy can they eat! Tons of holes all over what used to be lovely leaves. Now, skeletonized. They have definitely been feasting on my broccoli and kale.

Cabbage White damage on my kale

And they keep coming back too! I will go out and check all my plants by hand (since I have a relatively small patch of broccoli and kale I can check every plant), then smash all the caterpillars I find. Sometimes I’ll pile them in a bucket and take them over to the neighbors chickens for a snack. I know it sounds terrible, but they really are just little eating and pooping machines. And they are an invasive species. They will also eat the actual broccoli or cauliflower heads (the parts we eat), not just the leaves…

Cabbage White caterpillars

When I feel confident my produce is once again safe, I return to the air-conditioned house. Then I see her. From the window. The deceitful Lady-in-White. Just ‘innocently’ flitting about the backyard… And over to my garden bed. Again. Fast forward a couple weeks later- and I’m picking caterpillars off holey leaves again. This cycle will repeat throughout the summer…

Sometimes you don’t want pretty things in your garden. Even if they are lovely fluttering butterflies. Like the Cabbage White Butterfly.

Check out these earrings that recycle the butterflies from pest control efforts: Cabbage White Butterfly Earrings. Its nice when things aren’t wasted… Even deceitful butterflies.

Cabbage White eggs
Cabbage White butterfly
Cabbage White damage


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Written by an entomologist for the enjoyment of all... The goal is to post something new every Wednesday and on the weekends, so stay tuned!