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Cabbage White Butterflies (Large)

July 28, 2014

I have been holding off on writing about the butterflies because we’re on day 28 and they’re not all out yet.

The butterflies were supposed to emerge at approximately 2 weeks after they pupated. I have been careful to make sure that they get at least 16 hours of light every day because I read that this determines whether they think it’s summer or autumn. The autumn set of butterflies will stay pupated throughout winter to become the first spring batch of butterflies.

Between the 10th and 14th days of pupation five of the butterflies emerged. 3 definite females and 2 maybe males.

I’m starting to wonder if the remaining three think they’re going to spend the winter in my house.

Below I’ve included some photos of the changes in the pupa as well as some of the butterflies that we’ve released. 

I know that the three that are left are still alive because if I gently stroke the plastic onto which they’re adhered, they twitch. I genuinely don’t know what I’m going to do with them.

cabbage white 2

The photo above is of a pupa approximately 1 day after it was formed. It stayed looking mostly like this until 1 day before the butterfly was ready to emerge.


About 1 day before the butterfly emerges it starts to pump pigments into its wings which are very clearly visible through the pupa as you can see in the photo above.


I tried SO HARD to see one emerge. I watched them almost constantly over the four days that the first 5 butterflies came out and unfortunately I wasn’t able to view any of them coming out or pumping up their wings because they did it in the wee hours of the morning except for one that came out in the middle of the day during the half hour that I had to run to the store to pick up some smoothies.  I didn’t realize that they pumped up their wings so fast either because in the time it took me to go to the store and come back the butterfly was out, dry and ready to go.


I had originally planned to release them at a local park instead of anywhere near my garden but it wasn’t as convenient as I imagined, especially since they came out days apart so I released them in my garden. I know they’re technically pests but they are beautiful and I had a great time with my daughter watching them grow from tiny little specks of caterpillars into gorgeous delicate butterflies. Next year I think that I’ll mail order another species.




I never handled them with my fingers when they were caterpillars (paintbrush) but this one fluttered onto my finger when I tried to release her and I got some really clear photos. :)

Click on any photos to enlarge them and click HERE if you are interested in the caterpillar story! I’ve also now reared a batch of Small White Cabbage White Caterpillars and Butterflies!

From → Garden, Scotland

  1. Michelle permalink

    Thanks this has been so helpful & like you I am fascinated by them

  2. Lyndsay Davidson permalink

    This is great info. We currently have 15 all in a chrysalis. one escaped during cleaning and has made a home in the corner of our window ceiling. trying not to freak and I know it’s not going anywhere. Not sure whether to gently brush it down. I would hate to hurt it or worse.
    We don’t have the space in house to keep their butterfly net house so we have put them in our shed. I’ve brought them out to sit in the sunshine (don’t know if that actually is beneficial but the heat maybe). We enjoying just looking at them and have taken lots of pictures. Not sure how long we have to wait. I read different timescales. It’s a lovey process to be part of. Although my poor nasturtiums don’t agree haha.

  3. Sarah permalink

    Thanks so much for your post. We were given 20 tiny cabbage white caterpillars a week ago. Fortunately when they started “exploding” last night I was prepared and had the info about parasitic wasps ready to show the kids. In the last 24 hours we have gone from 20 caterpillars to 4 chrysalis, 15 wasp explosions and 1 “will it/won’t it” time bomb caterpillar. Although the process has been horrific to watch the kids have learnt so much about nature!

    • 4 chrysalises isn’t bad! Thank you for letting me know this was helpful for you. I am always glad to see people getting some use out of my rambling!
      I know a lot of people would be really grossed out by the wasp explosions, and it is unfortunate, but it’s nature… and to me it’s wonderful that kids are able to be learning in this hands on way!
      I don’t know if you’ve already spotted it, but I managed to snag some photos of a wasp in action here (if the kids are interested) they are actually really beautiful.

  4. Anonymous permalink

    Great story, thank you for documenting!

  5. I found one of these today flying around my couch. We have a foot of snow outside and freezing temperatures here in B.C. CA. I tried feeding it but I don’t think it ate. I have no idea what to do with the poor little thing!

    • Oh no :( I wonder where it came from! if it won’t take some sugar water there isn’t much you can do I’m afraid. I got some of my adults to eat a bit of sugar water i’d put on some store bought flowers, but the weather was good so i was able to let them go shortly afterward.

  6. Anonymous permalink

    Great post – and thanks for the wasp info. I had been googling caterpillars with tiny caterpillars!

  7. This is all so interesting, although the caterpillar stage made my skin crawl. We’ve had our cabbages decimated by cabbage white butterflies this year, and now we’ve just found several curled around yellow ‘eggs’. It turns out from your posts that these are wasps! Digustingly fascinating and informative. Thank you!

    • I’m really glad you found the posts useful and sorry to hear about your cabbages. I did end up losing almost all of my Nasturtiums too because they just kept coming and I couldn’t bring myself to kill the little guys so I won’t be planting those again unless I want a zillion free caterpillars!

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