Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)

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Medium to large; wingspan, 50-55 mm.

Both sexes are a bright orange-red on their upper surfaces with dark bars across the leading edge of the forewings and darkly bordered, blue spots along the outer margins of both wings. There are three near-black spots on each forewing and the basal halves of the hind wings are similarly coloured. The undersides of the wings are a dull, dark, grey-brown colour basally with the outer half of the wings largely a pale, dirty cream-brown. There is a row of blue-grey spots bordering both under-wings forming an irregular band to the immediate inside of a dirty pale brown margin.



Aglais urticae





The Small Tortoiseshell is among the most well known butterflies in Britain and Ireland. The striking and attractive patterning, and its appearance at almost any time of the year in urban areas have made it a familiar species. It is one of the first butterflies to be seen in spring and in the autumn it often visits garden flowers in large numbers.

The Small Tortoiseshell is one of our most widespread species and has shown little overall change in range.



Behaviour and life history

This butterfly wanders incessantly over a wide area and does not form colonies but is most likely to be found in the vicinity of its principal larval food plant, the Common Nettle, Urtica dioica. The Small Tortoiseshell over-winters as an adult and emerges from early March onwards before laying its eggs in late April and May. The first brood are on the wing in July and the second brood emerges in early September.


Where to look for it

It can be found anywhere in the city particularly in the vicinity of nettles. It is commonly attracted to gardens seeking nectar from flowers and is one of the most common visitors to the Butterfly-bush, Buddleja davidii. In the open countryside it favours overgrown hedgerows and sheltered woodland edges, rides and glades.


Distribution and status

Very common and widespread.

When to look for it

It is most commonly on the wing between early March and early May, again in July, and from early September to late October when it retires to hibernate over winter.

Similar species

A distinctive species that is unlikely to be mis-identified when seen at close quarters.