How To Identify White Butterflies

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picture of a great southern white butterfly

White butterflies (Pierinae), a fairly diverse butterfly subfamily, count over two dozen species in a dozen genera within their ranks. The Great Southern White (Ascia monuste), top picture, has neotropical origins, and a native range limited to southern areas of the United States. The blue clubs at the and of the antennae serve as the best field identification clue for the species. Species from four additional genera are presented here to help with basic identification questions.

Pine Whites

picture of a pine white butterfly

From mustards to pines, white butterfly larvae display an eclectic palate. Pine Whites (Neophasia menapia), common Western species, fly wherever pine trees grow.

The picture shows a top view of the wings. The curved border line on the top of the wing that starts at the body is a key identification mark.

Checkered Whites

picture of a western white butterfly

Four Pontia species, collectively called checkered whites also make a prominent showing across North America. The Western White butterfly (Pontia occidentalis) extends its range through much of the Rocky Mountain region to western coastal areas.

Giant White

picture of a Giant White butterfly

Giant White Butterflies (Ganyra josephina) wings can span close to four inches. They are a tropical species that can be seen in South Texas.

Cabbage White

picture of a female cabbage white butterfly

The Cabbage White Butterfly (Pieris rapae), one of the most recognizable whites, flies in and around residential gardens from spring through summer.

Females, like the one in the top picture, have two black spots on an otherwise white wing. Males have one black spot on the wing.

Their name derives from both color and diet. The caterpillars feed on plants in the mustard family (Brassicaceae). Cabbage, a mustard plant, naturally invites the species to gardens.

Cabbage whites are introduced species, native to Europe. Their presence in any one area means they compete with other native Pieridae species that feed on mustard plants.