White Springtime Butterflies

There are three species of white coloured butterflies that can be seen in gardens during the spring. These are the Large White, Small White and Green-veined White. Although superficially similar, they are quite distinct species and with a bit of practice you can identify which is which.

The Large White and Small White are sometimes referred to as Cabbage Whites. This is because they lay their eggs on plants of the cabbage family (Brassica) and can be a pest, as their caterpillars munch their way through a crop. Gardeners and farmers don’t tend to like them! The Green-veined White on the other hand does not attack cabbages but lays its eggs on plants such as Cuckooflower, (also called Lady’s Smock), Garlic Mustard and Hedge Mustard.

A Large White Butterfly on a flower

A Large White Butterfly

All three are garden visitors. They often warm up by sitting in the sun in gardens but more usually fly through quickly inspecting bushes and plants without landing. All three have spent the winter in the pupal, or chrysalis stage of their life cycle and are emerging now to mate and lay eggs. These eggs hatch and the caterpillars develop quickly and turn into adult butterflies in about six weeks, to produce another generation flying later in the summer.

A Small White Butterfly on a purple flower

A Small White Butterfly

Identification of the different Whites can be tricky. The Large White is noticeably bigger than the other two. It has patches of jet black on the tips of its wings and two large black spots on its forewing.  The Small White looks like a smaller version of the Large White, but its wing tips are more grey coloured than black and the black spots on its wings are smaller.

A Green-veined White Butterfly on a purple flower

A Green-veined White Butterfly

The Green-veined White is the same size as the Small White but has paler grey wing tips and either no spots or two pale fuzzy looking grey spots on its forewings. The main distinguishing feature of the Green-veined White, which gives it its name, is the beautiful pattern of pale green lines following the veins on the underside of its wings. The Large and Small White both have plain pale-yellow underwings.  If you get a good look at the underwings it is easy to identify the Green-veined White.