picture of a great southern white butterfly

Help With White Butterfly Identification

Suggestions for help with white butterfly identification follow general butterfly identification rules. First and foremost, butterfly watchers ought to have a list of the local butterfly populations and check any picture of a butterfly they take against the list.

It can be a detailed process when it comes to white butterflies (Pierinae) because they are a fairly diverse butterfly subfamily, counting over two dozen species in a dozen genera within their ranks. Here is a list of representative species to help get the process started.

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White Butterflies

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. Because they tend to fly most of the year, finding one and getting a picture is a relatively easy task.

picture of a female cabbage white butterfly

Finding a Cabbage White Butterfly (Pieris rapae) can be as easy as walking out the door and looking in the garden.

Cabbage whites are one of the most recognizable of all the white butterflies. They fly around residential gardens from spring through summer. Females, like the one in the 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. They are an introduced species, native to Europe. Their presence in any one area means they compete with other native Pieridae species that feed on mustard plants.

One of those competing Pieris, the Margined White (Pieris marginalis), inhabits western areas. Depending on their specific location they fly from spring through summer.

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. They are abundant in the west and fairly easy to find and photograph.

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.

Six different Orangetips (genus Anthocharis), the most colorful of the white butterflies, make their presence known from coast to coast.

Their larvae also feed on plants in the mustard family, common North American plants, which partially explains their extended range.

Usually the very prominent orange tipped wings get matched with an equally dull pattern for the underside of the wings.

The pattern serves as camouflage while the orangetip rests with wings folded.

The Sara's Orangetip butterfly, a striking butterfly, represents the genera. They are abundant up and down the West Coast, making their home in fields, deserts and other areas. They are one of the first butterflies to appear in early spring and their bright colors add a touch of sparkle to their newly emerging green environment.

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.

picture of a Giant White butterfly

No one can blame size for the difficulty of finding and photographing the Giant White Butterfly (Ganyra josephina). Their wing span can reach up to four inches, making them visible to most people in their territory. The problem is that they are a tropical species that can only be regularly seen in South Texas.

© 2002-2016 Patricia A. Michaels