By Corrine Johnston
Cabbage White (Pieris rapae)
Accidentally introduced from Europe around 1860, the Cabbage White has become a common everyday sight. They are abundant in Michigan and often seen around gardens and fields where they utilize cultivated and wild members of the mustard family including Virginia Peppergrass, Wild Mustard, Wild Radish, broccoli, cabbage, and turnip to lay their eggs. These plants where a Cabbage White may lay its eggs is called its host plant. Butterflies only they their eggs on specific plants because caterpillars are picky eaters. This means that the mother butterfly must lay her eggs on plants the caterpillar will eat. The mother deposits her eggs on the underside of leaves.
Often mistaken for moths, the Cabbage White is a butterfly. Unlike moths, butterflies are active during the day, have thin wire like antennae with a knob at the end, and fold their wings straight above their bodies.
Similar to bees, butterflies are also pollinators. They feed principally on nectar and other liquid food. Butterflies consume nectar using their proboscis which functions as a straw to suck the nectar into their bodies. When not in use, the butterfly curls its proboscis under its head. As they fly flower to flower to gather nectar, the pollen from the flowers sticks to the hairs on their bodies and travels with them. This spreading of pollen is what makes the butterfly a pollinator.
Butterflies live two to four weeks on average. In the short time, butterflies must find a mate and the female must lay her eggs on the host plant. To find a mate, butterflies perform an aerobatic dance called courtship.
Male and female Cabbage Whites look similar. The female has two black spots on her forewing and the male has one black spot on his forewing.