Home / Brush-Footed (Nymphalidae) / Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)

Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)


Small Tortoiseshell

The Small Tortoiseshell is a species of bright reddish orange, yellow and black butterflies found in a wide range across Eurasia. They are mainly seen during warmer climate when they come out of their hibernation for mating.

Scientific Classification

  • Family: Nymphalidae
  • Genus: Aglais
  • Scientific Name: Aglais urticae

Description and Identification


Small Tortoiseshell Caterpillar
The larvae of the small tortoiseshell butterfly are black in color with a dull yellow line running vertically. There are also yellow marks on both sides of each segment along with a small tuft of spine-like hairy growths. The older specimens gradually turn more and more yellow with age, as the black portions keep diminishing.


Small Tortoiseshell Pupa
The chrysalis is light brown with golden spots and bands, and hangs from the twigs resembling a dry leaf. This is for the purpose of camouflaging.

Adult Butterfly

Sexual Dimorphism:

Color and Appearance: When the wings are open, they primarily display a reddish orange coloration, with black and yellow markings on the primary wings and a ring of blue spots close to the periphery of the wings. When the wings are closed, the ventral shows a relatively drab coloration. All the four wings show a dark color, except for a blurry dull yellow patch in the middle of the forewing.

Aglais urticae
Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly

Average wingspan: 4.5–6.2 cm

Flight pattern: Very fast and in a straight line


Small Tortoiseshell Eggs
Bright green, and laid in batches on host plant leaves. The batches of eggs can contain up to 80 eggs which take some time to lay – typically between 20 and 90 minutes.

Quick Facts

Distribution Throughout temperate Europe, Asia Minor, Central Asia, China, Nepal, Siberia, Mongolia, Korea, Japan, and the Himalayas in India (mostly in the Sikkim region)
Habitat Wide variety of habitats, but exclusively prefers visiting human-made gardens
Host plants Primarily feed on the common nettle leaves (Urtica dioica)
Adult diet Flower nectar

Did You Know?

  • While looking for honey-yielding flowers, this species, in particular, tend to prefer colors at both ends of the visible light spectrum for humans, 400 nm and 600 nm, which correspond to the colors violet and red, respectively.
  • Young caterpillars of the species live in groups, while the older ones are solitary.
  • The small tortoiseshell butterfly is the national butterfly of Denmark.
Small Tortoiseshell Pictures
Small Tortoiseshell Photos
Small Tortoiseshell Images

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Scientific Classification

  • Family: Nymphalidae
  • Genus: Aglais
  • Scientific Name: Aglais urticae
Published by Avatar on February 3, 2019.
Last Updated: December 27, 2022. ✅ Verified by: Butterfly Team