Australian Biological Resources Study

Australian Faunal Directory


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Family PIERIDAE Swainson, 1820

Whites, Yellows


Pieridae are characterised by adults of both sexes having all legs functional, head with bases of the antennae close together, epiphysis absent, tarsal claws bifid, fore wing with some branches of R forked, pupa attached by a cremaster and central girdle and larva without an osmeterium. They are moderate-sized butterflies, most with white or yellow the predominant colour and a black border to the wing. Species of Delias Hübner are renowned for their brightly coloured red, black and yellow, undersides. The species of Eurema Hübner may be difficult to distinguish although they frequently have markedly different wing patterns in ultraviolet light that is visible to the butterflies, but not to human observers.

Braby et al. (2006) recently revised the higher classification of the Pieridae, based on phylogenetic analysis of an extensive combined molecular data set of almost all genera. In that study, the four conventionally recognised subfamilies were maintained, but the largest subfamily Pierinae showed far greater phylogenetic diversity than previously realised and was divided into several tribes, subtribes and informal groups. Only the Coliadinae and Pierinae occur in Australia; the Pseudopontinae are restricted to central western Africa, and the Dismorphiinae to the Neotropical Region with a disjunct occurrence in the Palaearctic. The likely relationships among the four subfamilies are: (Pseudopontinae + Dismorphiinae) + (Coliadinae + Pierinae). Braby et al. (2006) proposed a reclassification of the subfamily Pierinae into two tribes (Anthocharidini sensu stricto, Pierini sensu stricto) and two informal groups (Colotis group, Leptosia Hübner), with the tribe Pierini sensu stricto subdivided into three subtribes (Appiadina, Pierina, Aporiina) and three genera (Elodina C. & R.Felder, Dixeia Talbot, Belenois Hübner), of uncertain status (incertae sedis).

Thirty-eight species of Pieridae are known from Australia (Braby 2010): 12 in Coliadinae, 26 in Pierinae. Most of the pierid genera that occur in Australia are widely distributed outside Australia. Eurema occurs in the tropics of both hemispheres but, despite its wide range, two species (E. smilax (Donovan) and E. herla (W.S. Macleay)) are almost restricted to Australia. The genera Catopsilia Hübner, Appias Hübner, Belenois Hübner, Cepora Billberg and Leptosia Hübner are all widespread. The genus Delias, which has speciated greatly in New Guinea, includes a series of endemic species in Australia. Elodina C. & R. Felder has endemic Australian species, but also occurs in New Guinea, Sulawesi and Maluku. The origins of the Australian pierid fauna are not well understood.

The larval food plants of Australian Coliadinae are members of the Fabaceae and occasionally other families like Euphorbiaceae. Pierinae are usually found on Capparaceae with many non-Australian species on Brassicaceae and Delias on Loranthaceae, Santalaceae and Viscaceae. Pieris rapae (L.) is the most serious pest butterfly in Australia and was introduced from Europe probably via New Zealand in about 1937.

Many species are strongly migratory both in Australia and overseas. There are numerous records of migration within Australia, but only a few of migration between New Guinea and Australia. Catopsilia, Eurema, Elodina and Appias species migrate southward along the eastern coast of Australia in some years. Delias species also migrate, but their movements are more complicated. Belenois java (L.) undertakes fairly regular mass migrations, usually two, each spring. In the second, later, migration, adults travel in a southerly direction when they are west of the Great Dividing Range into southern NSW and VIC, and then return in a northerly direction along the tablelands and eastern coast. This spectacular migration warrants detailed study. The adults of larger species are strong, swift fliers, but the smaller Eurema, while not so strong, still manage to travel very long distances. Appias paulina (Cramer), Belenois java and Eurema smilax have been recorded from Tasmania, but do not breed regularly south of about central NSW.

Larvae are slender, usually green, and feed exposed on the food plant. In species of Delias the larvae are gregarious. In Delias harpalyce (Donovan) they pupate on a large communal web of silk. Pupae may be keeled (as in Eurema) or adorned with a few large spines (as in Delias).


History of changes

Note that this list may be incomplete for dates prior to September 2013.
Published As part of group Action Date Action Type Compiler(s)
06-Sep-2017 PAPILIONOIDEA 13-Feb-2018 MODIFIED
05-Mar-2013 05-Mar-2013 MODIFIED
30-Mar-2012 30-Mar-2012 MODIFIED
28-Mar-2012 28-Mar-2012 MODIFIED
12-Feb-2010 (import)