Saturday, December 28, 2013

The large white butterfly

The large white is one of the most common butterflies to be found in the Maltese islands. The only other butterfly which might be more common is its close relative the small white.

The large white is also known as the cabbage white or cabbage butterfly because its caterpillars feed on members of the crucifer family (or as it is sometimes called the mustard family) to which the cabbage belongs. In Maltese it is known as farfett tal-kabocci.

This species is found throughout Europe, North Africa and many parts of Asia. In 1995 it started breeding in South Africa and in 2010 it reached New Zealand.  It is found mostly in open spaces, farms and vegetable gardens.

Wherever it occurs it is considered a pest because it feeds on cultivated plates such as cauliflowers, broccoli and kohlrabi which belong to the cabbage family.   

Both males and females have white wings with black tips on the forewings but the female has two black beauty spots which the male does not.

The large white is a well-known migrant. It moves both north – south as well as laterally. It is difficult to follow its migration patterns because of the large distances it travels. In Malta it sometimes arrives in large numbers. It migrates in both spring and autumn but most large cabbage white migrations that have been recorded in the Maltese islands took place between September and November.

Most Maltese are not aware of the migration of butterflies. Butterflies do not migrate in a regular pattern and their arrival can never be predicted. Furthermore migratory butterflies were never harvested so there was never any need to await their arrival.

Both adult cabbage whites and their caterpillars have a bad taste which they get from chemicals derived from mustard-oils which they obtain from their food-plants when they are still in the larval stage. The caterpillars are brightly coloured and do not bother to hide themselves as predators tend to avoid them.  

This article was published in the Times of Malta on 20 November 2013.

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