Print page

Small tortoiseshell butterfly


Aglais urticae

One of the commoner garden butterflies throughout the UK, the small tortoiseshell is bright orange and black with a row of blue crescents around the wing edges. Underneath, they are camouflaged dark grey and brown. Adults emerge from hibernation on the first warm spring days and look for mates.

Females usually lay their eggs on tender, young stinging nettles in batches of 60 to 100. Caterpillars hatch after about 10 days and spin a dense web over the plant’s growing tip. The caterpillars live communally for most of their lives, dispersing to pupate. Adults often hibernate in houses, outbuildings and sheds. 

Caterpillars are bristly and black with two discontinuous yellow lines along their sides. Their bright colours warn predators that they are poisonous.

What does it eat?

Adults drink nectar from flowers. Caterpillars eat stinging nettles.

When will I see it?

Adults: between March and October. Caterpillars: May to August.

Where will I see it?

Feeding on a variety of flowers, basking in the sunshine. Found in most flowery places in urban and rural locations.

Vital statistics

Length: 45 mm across forewings


Not seen in JanuaryNot seen in FebruarySeen in MarchSeen in AprilSeen in MaySeen in JuneSeen in JulySeen in AugustSeen in SeptemberSeen in OctoberNot seen in NovemberNot seen in December

Key to calendar