Small Heath Satyridae

Coenonympha pamphilus (Linnaeus 1758)

Description: Wingspan 33-37 mm. Females are larger than males. The upperside is generally light orange-brown. The underside of the forewing is also orange-brown with a small white pupilled black eyespot near the apex. The underside of the hindwing is dark brown near the base and grey along the hind margin. These are separated by a cream-coloured jagged blotch.

Similar Species: The two heaths are readily identifiable by the orange uppersides. Whilst they differ in habitat preference there are sites where the two species can be seen together in the west of N. Ireland. Well-marked Large Heath's should present no difficulty as the Small Heath never has prominent spots on the hindwing. Lightly spotted Large Heaths may be more difficult to distinguish but most specimens will be larger.

Key Identification Features:

Sets:  male upperside male underside

Flight Period: Double-brooded the first in mid May to early July and the second in mid August to mid September.

Status: A widespread species found throughout N. Ireland, but absent from many upland areas. It is probably commonest in the south and east reflecting its preference for drier grassland types. It is very local or absent from much of central Down, north Antrim, Tyrone and east Fermanagh.

Ecology: Found in grassland biotopes especially drier types. It lives in colonies but individuals do wander. Males congregate in tall grasses or shrubs and adopt small territories from which they investigate any passing adults. Females visit perching areas to mate. Once mated females depart from male arenas and search for egg-laying sites. Larval foodplants are fine-leaved grasses especially Poa and Festuca spp. Overwinters usually as a half-grown larva.

World Distribution: Europe, except northernmost Fennoscandia; Asia Minor and Asia to western Mongolia.

Bradley & Fletcher number: 1627 Agassiz number: 59.005

Additional information:

UK Butterflies account


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