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For information on Wisconsin's rare vertebrate animals, contact:
Rich Staffen
Conservation Biologist
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Jay Watson
Conservation Biologist

West Virginia White (Pieris virginiensis)



West Virginia White (Pieris virginiensis), a State Special Concern butterfly, is very local in rich, deciduous northern forests, primarily of beech and sugar maple. Its host plant is toothwort, Cardamine diphylla, perhaps C. maxima. This is a univoltine species, adults have been observed from mid-May into the first week of June. Eggs are laid singly on the undersides of leaves and hatch in May and complete development by the beginning of June when they pupate and enter diapause until the following spring.

State status

Status and Natural Heritage Inventory documented occurrences in Wisconsin

The table below provides information about the protected status - both state and federal - and the rank (S and G Ranks) for West Virginia White (Pieris virginiensis). See the Working List Key for more information about abbreviations. Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for this species in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database. The map is provided as a general reference of where occurrences of this species meet NHI data standards and is not meant as a comprehensive map of all observations.

Note: Species recently added to the NHI Working List may temporarily have blank occurrence maps.

Documented locations of Pieris virginiensis in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.
Summary Information
State StatusSC/N
Federal Status in Wisconsinnone
State RankS3
Global RankG2G3
Tracked by NHIY

Species guidance

Identification: All white butterfly with no black spots. Length about 1.5 inches across the wings. The underside hindwing is white with veins colored a diffuse gray-brown.

Similar Species: The Spring form of the mustard white, Pieris napi, is very similar but the underside of P. napi has dark veins and there is a trace of yellow to the ground color. These two species are very difficult to separate and location must be considered.

Habitat: Very local in rich, deciduous forest.

Host Plant: Toothwort, Dentaria (now Cardamine) diphylla, perhaps D. maxima, but does not appear to use the most common Dentaria laciniata in Wisconsin.

State Distribution: Northeastern, north central counties, primarily in the range of Dentaria diphylla.

Global Distribution: Ontario to New England and south to Virginia.

Rationale for Species Listing and Threats: Contributing factors to population survival include early senescence of the foodplant before caterpillars are fully developed, poor weather conditions in the early Spring for oviposition, patchy distribution of foodplants in the forest, viral contamination of eggs, and the reluctance of the species to disperse across open fields (Cappuccino and Kareiva, 1985).

Phenology: May 12 to June 3 adults collected in Wisconsin.

Life and Natural History: Univoltine with adults emerging from overwintered pupae when leaves and flower stalks of Dentaria appear in early April. Eggs are laid singly on the undersides of leaves and hatch in May. The first three instar larvae feed on the underside or leaves and edges, instars 4 and 5 feed mostly on the top of the leaves and complete development by the beginning of June when they pupate and enter diapause until Spring. Adults emerge in the early Spring and are short-lived such that mating, egg-laying, and larval development must occur before senescence of the foodplants. Weather that delays adult emergence relative to the flowering of the foodplants by as little as five days may lead to loss of larvae when the plants senesce before the larvae are old enough to become mobile and wander to find secondary foodplants.



West Virginia White

Photo © Mike Reese.

West Virginia White

Photo © Mike Reese.

West Virginia White

The host plants of the West Virgina white butterfly are toothworts (Dentaria spp), which can be outcompeted by non-native, invasive garlic mustard.

Photo © Mike Reese.

Wildlife Action Plan

Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan graphic

Natural community (habitat) associations

The table below lists the natural communities that are associated with West Virginia White. Only natural communities for which West Virginia White is "high" (score=3) or "moderate" (score=2) associated are shown. See the key to association scores for complete definitions. Please see the Wildlife Action Plan to learn how this information was developed.

Ecological landscape associations

The table below lists the ecological landscape association scores for West Virginia White. The scores correspond to the map (3=High, 2=Moderate, 1=Low, 0=None). For more information, please see the Wildlife Action Plan.

This map shows the probability of West Virginia White occurring in each of Wisconsin's Ecological Landscapes.  Actual scores can be found in the table to the left.

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Landscape-Community combinations of highest ecological priority*

Ecological priorities are the combinations of natural communities and ecological landscapes that provide Wisconsin's best opportunities to conserve important habitats for a given Species of Greatest Conservation Need. The 10 highest scoring combinations are considered ecological priorities and are listed below. More than 10 combinations are listed if multiple combinations tied for 10th place. For more information, please see the Wildlife Action Plan.

* Ecological priority score is a relative measure that is not meant for comparison between species. This score does not consider socio-economical factors that may dictate protection and/or management priorities differently than those determined solely by ecological analysis. Further, a low ecological priority score does not imply that management or preservation should not occur on a site if there are important reasons for doing so locally.

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Issues/threats and conservation actions

Conservation actions respond to issues or threats, which adversely affect species of greatest conservation need (SGCN) or their habitats. Besides actions such as restoring wetlands or planting resilient tree species in northern communities, research, surveys and monitoring are also among conservation actions described in the WWAP because lack of information can threaten our ability to successfully preserve and care for natural resources.

Threats/issues and conservations actions for rare animals

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Last revised: Thursday, October 08, 2020