Small Tortoiseshell Nymphalidae

Aglais urticae (Linnaeus, 1758)

Description: Wingspan 45-62mm. The sexes look very similar but males are smaller than females. The upperside is a rich tawny red with black and yellow blotches. The slightly scalloped wings have a series of blue spots close to the side and hind margins. The undersides are less colourful, the pattern on the forewing being a duller reflection of the upperside.

Similar Species: This is such a familiar species that it should present no difficulty in identification. Of the other nymphalids, the Painted Lady is most similar but is distinctly larger and more orange in general coloration.

Key Identification Features:

Sets:  male upperside male underside

Flight Period: In N. Ireland the Small Tortoiseshell is univoltine. Adults recorded from early March to late June and from mid-July to late September. Precocious emerging adults can be seen in mild winter spells.

Status: This is probably the most familiar butterfly in N. Ireland. It is common and widespread but numbers vary considerably from year to year.

Ecology: Can be seen in most habitats but especially associated with highly modified grasslands, gardens and derelict, disturbed sites. Adults are highly mobile, moving steadily across the countryside. Adults aggregate on nectar sources and clumps of foodplants. After spring emergence, males form territories around a patch of foodplant and chase any other adults seen. Territories will be abandoned if no female is encountered within c 90 minutes. When a female is found, a prolonged chase ensues, before mating occurs. Adults of the new generation feed on nectar sources prior to entering hibernation. A wide range of flowers are used including many wild, garden and exotic species especially Buddleja Buddleja davidii, Michaelmas Daisies Aster spp. and Valerians Centranthus spp. The larval foodplants are nettles Urtica spp.

World Distribution: Throughout Europe and Asia.

Bradley & Fletcher number: 1593 Agassiz number: 59.027

Additional information:

UK Butterflies account


 Thompson, R. S. & Nelson, B., 2003 (Oct 2). [In] The Butterflies and Moths of Northern Ireland