Rearing the Cabbage White Butterfly (Pieris rapae) in Controlled Conditions: A Case Study with Heavy Metal Tolerance

Emilie C. Snell-Rood, Megan E. Kobiela

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The cabbage white butterfly (Pieris rapae) is an important system for applied pest control research and basic research in behavioral and nutritional ecology. Cabbage whites can be easily reared in controlled conditions on an artificial diet, making them a model organism of the butterfly world. In this paper, a manipulation of heavy metal exposure is used to illustrate basic methods for rearing this species. The general protocol illustrates how butterflies can be caught in the field, induced to lay eggs in greenhouse cages, and transferred as larvae to artificial diets. The methods show how butterflies can be marked, measured, and studied for a variety of research questions. The representative results give an idea of how artificial diets that vary in components can be used to assess butterfly performance relative to a control diet. More specifically, butterflies were most tolerant to nickel and least tolerant to copper, with a tolerance of zinc somewhere in the middle. Possible explanations for these results are discussed, including nickel hyper-accumulation in some mustard host plants and recent evidence in insects that copper may be more toxic than previously appreciated. Finally, the discussion first reviews variations to the protocol and directions for troubleshooting these methods, before considering how future research might further optimize the artificial diet used in this study. Overall, by providing a detailed video overview of the rearing and measurement of cabbage whites on artificial diets, this protocol provides a resource for using this system across a wide range of studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere65383
JournalJournal of Visualized Experiments
Issue number198
StatePublished - Aug 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful for the support from undergraduate assistants during the rearing for this work, in particular Regina Kurandina and Rhea Smykalski. Carolyn Kalinowski helped compile literature on metal toxicity in other Lepidoptera. This work was made possible by a University of Minnesota Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior summer research grant.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 JoVE.

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Video-Audio Media
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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