Cabbage White Caterpillar: What Do They Eat? Tips for Gardeners

Spread the love

Did you know that a single cabbage white caterpillar can consume up to three times its body weight in cabbages every day? These voracious eaters have quite the appetite, causing significant damage to cabbage, broccoli, and other cruciferous plants. Understanding what these caterpillars eat is crucial for gardeners looking to protect their crops from devastation. So, what exactly do these pests feast on? Let's delve into the dietary habits of cabbage white caterpillars and explore effective ways to manage them in your garden.

Key Takeaways

  • Identify Cabbage White Caterpillars: Look for pale green caterpillars with fine hairs and yellow stripes on the sides to spot cabbage white caterpillars.

  • Control Caterpillar Damage: Protect cabbages by handpicking cabbage worms, using row covers, or applying organic pesticides like Bacillus thuringiensis.

  • Understand Cabbage White Butterfly's Diet: Recognize that cabbage white butterflies feed on cruciferous plants like cabbage, broccoli, and kale.

  • Manage Imported Cabbageworms: Implement crop rotation, practice good garden hygiene, and encourage natural predators to control imported cabbageworm populations.

  • Consider Chickens as Natural Predators: Utilize chickens in your garden to help control cabbage white butterfly populations by consuming the whites.

  • Prevent Caterpillar Feeding Damage: Monitor plants regularly, remove cabbage whites eggs and caterpillars promptly, and maintain healthy plant growth to prevent extensive feeding damage.

Identifying Cabbage White Caterpillars and Butterflies


Cabbage white caterpillars are pale green with fine hairs, growing up to 1.5 inches long. They have a segmented body, three pairs of true legs, and five pairs of prolegs. These features help them move and grip onto leaves easily. The distinct pale green coloration aids in blending with the foliage of cruciferous plants where they feed.

The caterpillars also sport faint yellow stripes along their bodies for camouflage purposes. Small black spots may be present on their backs as further disguise among the leaves. This combination of colors and markings serves as a defense mechanism against predators by making them less visible while munching on cabbage family plants like broccoli or kale.


  • Pale green color with fine hairs
  • Segmented body with true legs and prolegs
  • Grow up to 1.

Cabbage White Butterfly's Diet

Plant Preferences

Cabbage white caterpillars, also known as cabbage whites, have a strong affinity for cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, and kale. These plants are rich in nutrients that attract the caterpillars. If left unattended, cabbage whites, these voracious eaters can cause significant damage to the leaves by consuming them extensively. To protect cruciferous vegetables from infestation by cabbage white caterpillars, gardeners often plant nasturtiums nearby. Nasturtiums act as companion plants that repel these pests due to their pungent smell and peppery taste.

Planting nasturtiums close to cruciferous vegetables creates a natural barrier against cabbage white caterpillars' invasion. The distinct aroma and flavor of nasturtiums deter these pests effectively. By choosing to grow nasturtiums alongside their prized crops like cabbage or broccoli, gardeners can safeguard their plants from being devoured by hungry cabbage whites.

Feeding Habits

Cabbage white caterpillars exhibit specific feeding habits that distinguish them as notorious leaf-eaters in gardens. Preferring young and tender leaves over older ones, these insects chew through leaf tissue with remarkable efficiency. Their feeding frenzy results in characteristic holes on the foliage of host plants such as cabbages or kale.

The feeding behavior of cabbage white caterpillars is relentless; they consume large quantities of foliage within a short period. This rapid consumption rate poses a threat to the health and vitality of cruciferous vegetables if not managed promptly by gardeners. Recognizing this trait allows gardeners to take proactive measures to control and prevent potential damage caused by these persistent pests.

Lifecycle of Cabbage White Butterflies

Egg Stage

Cabbage white butterflies lay their eggs on cruciferous plant leaves. The eggs are pale yellow and cylindrical, about 1 mm in size, laid individually. This stage sets the foundation for the caterpillar's life cycle.

During this phase, female cabbage white butterflies carefully select suitable plants to deposit their eggs. These tiny yellow cylinders can be found nestled beneath the leaves of broccoli, kale, or other cruciferous vegetables in your garden.

Caterpillar Stage

The caterpillar stage is where these insects become most destructive. They molt several times as they grow larger, shedding their old skin to accommodate their increasing size. Caterpillars voraciously feed on the host plant during this period while rapidly growing in size.

Imagine a small green larva with black spots munching away at your cabbage leaves day and night. These hungry pests can quickly strip a plant of its foliage if left unchecked.

Pupa Stage

After gorging themselves during the caterpillar stage, these creatures enter the pupa stage to undergo metamorphosis inside a protective chrysalis. The chrysalis is usually green or brown to blend seamlessly with its environment while safeguarding the transformation process within.

Once it’s time for a change from ravenous larvae to delicate butterflies, these pupae hang suspended from branches or other surfaces until they emerge as elegant adults ready to flutter through gardens once more.

Adult Butterfly

Adult cabbage white butterflies boast distinctive features such as white wings with black tips on their forewings. Males showcase one black spot per wing while females exhibit two spots each wing – characteristics that make them easily identifiable among other butterfly species.

These graceful insects have an average wingspan of around 2 inches and prefer flitting about during daylight hours when flowers are abundant and temperatures are ideal for mating and feeding activities.

Impact on Plants

Cabbage white caterpillars are voracious eaters, causing significant harm to cruciferous plants like cabbage and broccoli. They feed on the leaves, creating irregular holes and chewed edges that weaken the plant. This damage not only affects the appearance of the foliage but can also hinder photosynthesis, crucial for plant growth.

In severe cases, where infestations are left unchecked, these caterpillars can stunt the growth of plants and reduce crop yields significantly. Farmers and gardeners often notice a decline in their harvest due to the feeding habits of cabbage white caterpillars. The impact is not only aesthetic but also economic when considering agricultural production.

Plant Protection

To safeguard cruciferous plants from these pests, physical barriers such as netting or row covers serve as effective deterrents against cabbage white butterflies laying eggs on them. By placing these barriers around crops, farmers create a shield that prevents butterflies from accessing the plants directly. Regular monitoring is essential to ensure there are no gaps or openings in these protective measures that could compromise their effectiveness.

Natural Predators

Nature provides its own pest control system through various predators that help manage cabbage white caterpillar populations naturally. Birds like sparrows and finches play a vital role by preying on these caterpillars in gardens and fields. Insects such as ladybugs and lacewings contribute to controlling caterpillar numbers by feeding on them at different stages of their lifecycle.

Managing Imported Cabbageworms

Biological Control

Beneficial insects like parasitic wasps are a natural way to manage cabbage white caterpillar populations. These tiny wasps lay their eggs inside the caterpillars, which eventually kills them. Picture this: it's like having bodyguards for your garden, protecting your plants from these pesky invaders without harming the environment.

This method of biological control is an eco-friendly approach to pest management that doesn't involve harmful chemicals. It's nature's way of restoring balance in your garden by letting one insect keep another in check. By introducing these helpful allies into your garden, you can effectively reduce the cabbage white caterpillar population and protect your plants naturally.

Chemical Control

In cases of severe infestations where biological control may not suffice, resorting to chemical insecticides becomes necessary to manage cabbage white caterpillars effectively. However, it is crucial to select insecticides specifically designed for controlling caterpillars and follow the instructions meticulously when applying them. Imagine using a targeted missile instead of a widespread bomb – precision is key here.

Chemical control should be used as a last resort due to its potential impact on beneficial insects present in your garden ecosystem. While targeting cabbage white caterpillars with chemical treatments, there could be unintended consequences on other beneficial insects like bees or ladybugs that play vital roles in pollination and pest control within the garden environment.

Can Chickens Eat Cabbage White Butterflies?

Dietary Benefits

Cabbage white caterpillars, despite being considered pests, serve as a valuable food source for various animals. Birds, reptiles, and small mammals are among the creatures that prey on these caterpillars. By consuming cabbage white caterpillars, these predators obtain essential nutrients necessary for their growth and overall health. For instance, birds like sparrows and finches feed on these caterpillars to meet their dietary requirements.

On a broader scale, this natural predation helps maintain ecological balance by controlling the population of cabbage white butterflies in the wild. The consumption of cabbage white caterpillars by different animal species forms an integral part of the food chain in ecosystems where cruciferous plants grow abundantly. This interdependence ensures that no single species overpopulates or disrupts the delicate balance within its habitat.

Potential Risks

While beneficial to some wildlife, cabbage white caterpillars pose significant risks to agricultural activities and home gardens alike. In commercial cruciferous crop production settings, severe infestations of these caterpillars can lead to substantial economic losses. Farmers may need to resort to pesticide applications when faced with overwhelming populations of cabbage white caterpillars. However, such measures can have adverse environmental consequences due to chemical runoff into water sources and harm inflicted on non-target organisms.

In home gardens or urban landscapes, the presence of cabbage white caterpillars can detract from the visual appeal by causing damage to ornamental plants like cabbages or broccoli. Unsightly holes in leaves caused by feeding larvae not only reduce aesthetic value but also indicate potential pest problems that need addressing promptly before further plant damage occurs.

Preventing Caterpillar Feeding Damage

Crop rotation is a smart way to handle cabbage white caterpillar issues. By changing where you grow cruciferous veggies yearly, you disrupt the pests' life cycle. This method makes it harder for them to find their favorite plants again next season. It's like playing hide and seek with unwanted garden visitors!

Companion planting can also help keep cabbage white butterflies at bay. For instance, planting thyme or rosemary near your cabbages confuses these butterflies with potent scents they dislike. Imagine trying to enjoy a meal while someone cooks something you hate nearby - not pleasant! Moreover, having different types of plants together in your garden creates a diverse environment that benefits all living things there.

Facts About Cabbage White Butterflies and Caterpillars


Cabbage white butterflies have a relatively short lifespan, typically lasting between 2 to 4 weeks as adults. Their entire life cycle, from egg to adult butterfly, spans around 30 days. The duration can vary based on factors like temperature and food availability. For instance, in warmer climates, the lifecycle may be shorter due to accelerated growth rates.

These butterflies lay their eggs on plants like cabbage, broccoli, or kale. Once hatched, the caterpillars feed voraciously on these host plants before entering the pupal stage where they undergo metamorphosis into adult butterflies. The feeding habits of cabbage white caterpillars can cause significant damage to crops if left uncontrolled.

Migration Patterns

Cabbage white butterflies exhibit migratory behavior during different seasons. They migrate northward in spring and summer months following favorable weather conditions for breeding and feeding. In colder regions where temperatures drop significantly during winter months, these butterflies may overwinter as pupae before emerging as adults in the subsequent spring season.

Their migration patterns play a crucial role in maintaining population dynamics and genetic diversity among cabbage white butterfly populations across various regions. By moving to areas with suitable conditions for reproduction and survival, these insects ensure their species' continuity while also contributing to ecosystem balance through pollination activities.

Final Remarks

You've now uncovered the secrets of the cabbage white caterpillars and butterflies. From their diet to lifecycle and impact on plants, you're equipped to handle these critters like a pro. Remember, prevention is key. By implementing the strategies discussed, you can safeguard your garden and keep those pesky caterpillars at bay.

Take charge of your garden today, arm yourself with knowledge, and watch those cabbage white caterpillars flutter away! Your plants will thank you for it. Stay vigilant, stay informed, and happy gardening!

Frequently Asked Questions

What do cabbage white caterpillars eat?

Cabbage white caterpillars primarily feed on plants from the brassica family, such as cabbage, broccoli, and kale. Their voracious appetite can cause damage to these crops if not managed effectively.

Can chickens help control cabbage white butterflies in my garden?

Yes, chickens can be effective in controlling cabbage white butterflies by consuming the adult butterflies and caterpillars. Allowing chickens to forage in your garden can naturally reduce the population of these pests.

How do I identify cabbage white caterpillars and butterflies?

Cabbage white caterpillars are typically green with yellow stripes and feed on leaves. The adult butterflies have distinctive white wings with black markings. Observing their feeding patterns and physical characteristics can aid in identification.

What is the lifecycle of a cabbage white butterfly?

The lifecycle of a cabbage white butterfly consists of four stages: egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis), and adult butterfly. Understanding this cycle is crucial for implementing effective management strategies to control their population.

How can I prevent damage caused by cabbage white caterpillar feeding?

To prevent damage from cabbage white caterpillar feeding, consider using row covers to protect plants or applying organic pesticides like Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Regularly inspecting plants for signs of infestation also helps in early intervention.

Spread the love
Image Source: Paid image from CANVA

Related Posts

How to Get Rid of Ants on Peach Tree: Effective Solutions

How to Get Rid of Ants on Peach Tree: Effective Solutions

Spread the loveDid you know that a single ant colony, beneficial insects, can have up to half a mill...
How to Peel Cabbage: Efficient Techniques & Tips

How to Peel Cabbage: Efficient Techniques & Tips

Spread the lovePeeling cabbage may seem like a mundane task, but mastering this skill can elevate yo...
What Animals Eat Cabbage: Strategies to Protect Your Garden

What Animals Eat Cabbage: Strategies to Protect Your Garden

Spread the loveDid you know that cabbage is not just a favorite in salads and coleslaw but also a so...
How to Shred Napa Cabbage for Coleslaw: Expert Tips

How to Shred Napa Cabbage for Coleslaw: Expert Tips

Spread the loveWant to elevate your coleslaw game? Mastering how to chop Napa cabbage is the secret ...