Small tortoiseshell butterfly

  • Scientific name: Aglais urticae
  • Type: Insects

Key information

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 they eat:

Adults drink nectar from flowers. Caterpillars eat stinging nettles.


45mm across forewings

Identifying features:

Natural habitats: Fence/wall Flower border Hanging basket Hedge Herb garden Meadow area Nettle patch Patio Shrub Window box

Where and when to see them

You can see them feeding on a variety of flowers, basking in the sunshine. They are also found in most flowery places in urban and rural locations.

You can see adults between March and October. Caterpillars are seen from May to August.

  • jan
  • feb
  • mar
  • apr
  • may
  • jun
  • jul
  • aug
  • sep
  • oct
  • nov
  • dec