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butterfly Small Tortoiseshell Butterflies

Identify It >   Butterfly Section >   Small Tortoiseshell Butterflies >

Scientific name:  Aglais urticae

Size:  Wingspan approximately 50mm

Distribution:  Found throughout the UK

Months seen:  All year round, but mostly seen March to October

Life span:  Up to eight months

Habitat:  Meadows, gardens, and waste ground with wild flowers and nettles

Food:  Nectar.  The caterpillars feed on stinging nettles

Special features:  Small Tortoiseshells are one of the prettiest, and luckily one of our commonest butterflies.  They're resident in Britain all year, and can be found almost anywhere.

Males and female Small Tortoishells look the same.  The upper surfaces of the wings have a beautiful arrangement of yellow, orange and black markings with a row of bright blue spots at the outer edges.  When the wings are closed together the undersides of the wings show only various shades of brown in order to camouflage the butterfly when it is roosting.

Small Tortoiseshells start laying eggs in spring, on stinging nettles.  The first brood of new butterflies appear in July.  These can go on to produce another generation which appear as late as October.  These late arrivals will hibernate through the winter in garden sheds and buildings, ready to re-emerge the following spring around March.

Occasionally there are some variations in the colours.  This may be due to old age (where the colourful scales have fallen away), or it could be caused by environmental conditions, such as extremes of temperature during the chrysalis stage.  Sometimes it's caused by a genetic aberration.

The chrysalis shown above is a golden colour, but they can be other colours.  More usually a sort of mottled pale grey colour.  The chrysalis stage lasts approximately 12 days.

In Scotland Small Tortoiseshells are sometimes called 'The Devils Butterfly'.

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