Aglais urticae

Small Tortoiseshell


by Matt Rowlings

copyright © 2003-2024

Show butterflies of: EU US
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Valais, Switzerland, August 2019

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Vaud, Switzerland, May 2015

Field notes and information

One of the best known butterflies in Europe. It is widespread and common, although appears to be suffering from a serious reduction in numbers in the UK that started in the mid to late 2000s.

Identification & Similar species: The bright orange upperside ground colour, dark basal area on the hindwing, pale patches along the forewing costa and its smaller size help separate it from the much less frequent large tortoiseshells Nymphalis species.

On Corsica and Sardinia, it is replaced by the taxon ichnusa. This is now often considered a full species, although doubts remain as bred specimens revert to the more typical formurticae. It is separated by distribution and reduced upperside black markings in the basal area of the hindwing and two discal spots on the forewing.

Distribution & Flight: All Europe. Not north Africa.

Habitat & Behaviour: Very diverse habitats. An avid feeder, it will take nectar from flowers wherever they are found frequently in gardens and towns.

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Valais, Switzerland, July 2022

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Vaud, Switzerland, May 2014

Different colour forms.

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Cambridgeshire, UK, September 1982

Typical numbers found in autumn in my childhood garden.

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Valais, Switzerland, April 2018

Amazingly, taking water from melting snow.

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Vaud, Switzerland, May 2017

Nectaring on poet's narcissus.

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Valais, Switzerland, May 2014

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Valais, Switzerland, April 2011

Laying eggs on young growth of stinging nettle Urtica dioica.

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Geneva, Switzerland, June 2021

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Isère, France, July 2013

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Vaud, Switzerland, May 2014

Larval tent.

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Valais, Switzerland, March 2012

The silk forming the larval nest can be seen.

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SW Serbia, June 2012

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Valais, Switzerland, March 2012

Rarely seen courtship.

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Vaud, Switzerland, April 2009

Pupation underway.