The Small White (Pieris rapae)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Suborder: Ditrysia
Superfamily: Papilionoidea
Family: Pieridae
Duponchel, 1835


76 genera
1,051 species
Sleepy Oranges mud-puddling on a damp spot, Stuckey, South Carolina

The Pieridae are a large family of butterflies with about 76 genera containing approximately 1,100 species, mostly from tropical Africa and Asia.[1] Most pierid butterflies are white, yellow or orange in coloration, often with black spots. The pigments that give the distinct colouring to these butterflies are derived from waste products in the body and are a characteristic of this family.[2]

It is believed that the name "butterfly" originated from a member of this family — the Brimstone Gonepteryx rhamni — which was called the "butter-coloured fly" by early British naturalists.[2]

The sexes usually differ, often in the pattern or number of the black markings.

The larvae (caterpillars) of a few of these species, such as Pieris brassicae and Pieris rapae, commonly seen in gardens, feed on brassicas, and are notorious agricultural pests.

Males of many species exhibit gregarious mud-puddling behavior when they may imbibe salts from moist soils.[1]



The Pieridae have the radial vein on the forewing with 3 or 4 branches and rarely with 5 branches. The fore legs are well developed in both sexes, unlike in the Nymphalidae, and the tarsal claws are bifid unlike in the Papilionidae.[3]

Like the Papilionidae, Pieridae also have their pupae held at an angle by a silk girdle, but running at the first abdominal segment unlike the thoracic girdle seen in the Papilionidae.


The Pieridae are generally divided into the following four subfamilies:

  • Dismorphiinae (6 genera) Mostly Neotropical, this group includes several mimetical species. The host plants are in the family Fabaceae.[1]
  • Pierinae (55 genera) Whites, Yellow, Orange-tips, many of these species are strongly migratory. Host plants are in the families Capparidaceae, Brassicaceae, Santalaceae, and Loranthaceae.[1]
  • Coliadinae (14 genera) Sulphurs or Yellows, many of these species are sexually dimorphic. Some, such as Colias, have wing patterns that are visible only under ultraviolet.[1]
  • Pseudopontiinae The sole species in this subfamily, Pseudopontia paradoxa, is endemic to West Africa.

According to the molecular phylogenetic study of Braby et al. (2006), sister group relationships among Pieridae subfamilies are: ((Dismorphiinae+Pseudopontiinae)+(Coliadinae+Pierinae)).

Some popular species

Clouded Yellow, Colias croceus
Psyche Butterfly, Leptosia nina

Some pest species

  • Colias eurytheme, Alfalfa butterfly or Orange Sulphur
    Pieris brassicae, Large White or Cabbage White
  • Colias philodice, Common or Clouded Sulphur
  • Pieris rapae, Cabbage White
  • Pieris brassicae, Large White or Cabbage White

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e DeVries P. J. in Levin S.A. (ed) 2001 The Encyclopaedia of Biodiversity. Academic Press.
  2. ^ a b Carter, David, Butterflies and Moths (2000)
  3. ^ Borror, D. J., Triplehorn, C. A., & Johnson, N. F. (1989). An introduction to the study of insects (6th ed.). Philadelphia: Saunders College Publishers. ISBN 0030253977


  • Braby, M. F. 2005. Provisional checklist of genera of the Pieridae (Lepidoptera: Papilionidae). Zootaxa 832: 1–16.
  • Braby, M., R. Vila, and N. E. Pierce. 2006. Molecular phylogeny and systematics of the Pieridae (Lepidoptera: Papilionoidea: higher classification and biogeography. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 147(2): 239-275.
  • Carter, David. 2000. Butterflies and Moths (2/ed). Dorling Kindersley, London. ISBN 0 7513 2707 7.
  • A New Subspecies of Eurema andersoni (Lepidoptera: Pieridae) from South India, O YATA, H GAONKAR - Entomological science, 1999 - ci.nii.ac.jp

External links

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