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Monday, 23 July 2012

The much maligned 'Cabbage White' butterfly

I can just picture it, the veggie gardeners amongst you, throwing up your arms in horror! You know, I would have agreed with you, and even last year when I started taking photos of butterflies, I didn't even bother with the whites. They always seemed rather boring, were everywhere and were the cause of umpteen hours spent caterpillar squidging; time that could have been better spent elsewhere.

But this year I've been taking a few photos of them. At first it was because they were just about the only butterfly around, and then because I realised that up close, they were actually very pretty indeed.

What we know of as 'Cabbage Whites' are actually Large Whites (Pieris brassicae) and Small Whites (Pieris rapae). The Large Whites are the ones whose caterpillars are those hairy green and yellowy ones. The smooth green caterpillars come from the Small White. There's even a Green Veined White (Pieris napi) which I only recently heard about as I realised I'd taken a photo of one (albeit distantly, so not worth sharing). That one is also a brassica lover.

I often use this site for butterfly ID, as it shows all the usual UK (and that means Brittany too) butterflies, both male and female, wings closed and wings open. Even so I find it a bit hard sometimes to tell the difference between Large and Small, male and female, so I'm not going to attempt that here, and it'd probably bore the pants off you anyway ;-)

There are other white butterflies such as the Wood White and the Black Veined White, neither of which I've ever seen, but whose caterpillars feed on various grasses so we brassica growers have nothing to fear.

Then there's the Marbled White, which incidentally isn't classed as a 'white' (Pieridae) at all, but is part of the family of Nymphalidae, which includes the browns! Again, another grassland butterfly whose caterpillars feed on various grasses. I see them occasionally during the summer flitting about in wilder parts of my garden, across the lawned areas and near the pond, but I've never seen one stop and feed from a Verbena in my more cultivated garden area, so this is the first photo I've ever had the chance to get!

Marbled White (Melanargia galathea)

The one thing that does please me (it won't most of you, probably), is that no matter how many of the brassica munching caterpillars we squidge, there is never a shortage of Cabbage White butterflies, so I don't think there's any risk of them becoming rare any time soon!

Oh - and every flower here the butterflies are feeding on is Verbena bonariensis. Want butterflies? Get some seeds and grow this really easy plant! Read more about it here in My Top Garden Plants series.

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