NC State Extension Publications

Description and Biology

Skip to Description and Biology

The imported cabbageworm, Pieris rapae, is the immature stage of a white butterfly that has a black area near the tip of each forewing and a small black spot on the front edge of each hind wing. Female butterflies have two black spots on each forewing; males have only one. Females have a wingspan of about 2 inches; males are slightly smaller. Adults emerge early in spring, as early as March. Females attach very small, pale yellow, bullet-shaped eggs upright on a leaf surface. About a week later, tiny velvety green caterpillars hatch. Older caterpillars have a faint yellow stripe down the back and a row of faint yellow spots on each side. The caterpillars grow to just over an inch long in about two weeks. They then molt into a gray, green, or brown, sharply-angled chrysalis (pupa) about 7/8 inch long. Chrysalidaes are attached to the lower leaf surface by a silken loop. Imported cabbageworm butterflies usually molt from chrysalidaes in a week or two although they do overwinter as pupae attached to host plant debris. We have three or four generations per year.

Imported cabbageworm

Imported cabbageworms usually feed on the lower surface of leaves.

Imported cabbageworm chrysalides

Imported cabbageworm chrysalides are usually suspended under leaves or on stems.

Imported cabbageworm butterflies

Imported cabbageworm butterflies are commonly seen sipping nectar from various flowers.

Female imported cabbageworm

Female imported cabbageworm butterflies have three dark spots on each forewing.

Imported cabbageworm egg

Imported cabbageworm eggs are deposited one at a time, not in masses.

Host Plants

Skip to Host Plants

Imported cabbageworms feed on Allyssum, sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima), nasturtium, stock (Matthiola), flowering kale, ornamental cabbage, and weeds in the mustard family as well as vegetable crops in that family. Imported cabbageworms are commonly found on the undersides of leaves. Young caterpillars feed superficially, leaving the upper surface intact. Larger imported cabbageworms chew holes and even bore into the center of the heads of edible cultivars leaving masses of wet, greenish-brown excrement.

 spectacular damage

Because imported cabbageworm butterflies are common, their caterpillars can do spectacular damage to cruciferous ornamentals.

Residential Recommendations

Skip to Residential Recommendations

Although imported cabbageworms are attacked by a number of disease organisms and parasites, insecticides may have to be used to protect flowering crucifers. Most of the insecticides labeled for landscape use in home grounds should give adequate control.


Skip to References

For assistance with a specific problem, contact your local Cooperative Extension Center.

This Factsheet has not been peer reviewed.


Professor Emeritus
Entomology and Plant Pathology

Publication date: March 4, 2017
Revised: Dec. 9, 2021

N.C. Cooperative Extension prohibits discrimination and harassment regardless of age, color, disability, family and marital status, gender identity, national origin, political beliefs, race, religion, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation and veteran status.