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Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)

The Small Tortoiseshell, scientifically known as Aglais urticae, is a visually striking butterfly that graces various landscapes across Eurasia. Its vibrant colors and unique patterns not only captivate the eyes of onlookers but also play a crucial role in the ecological balance of its habitats. This species, known for its adaptability, thrives in a range of environments, marking its presence from temperate Europe to the rugged terrains of the Himalayas.

Small Tortoiseshell

Scientific Classification

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


Embarking on a journey through the life cycle and behaviors of the Small Tortoiseshell offers insight into the complexity and beauty of nature. This butterfly, with its distinctive colors and patterns, undergoes remarkable transformations from caterpillar to adult, each stage meticulously adapted to survival and reproduction. Beyond its aesthetic appeal, the Small Tortoiseshell plays a vital role in pollination, contributing to the biodiversity of its habitats.

Description and Identification

Small Tortoiseshell CaterpillarCaterpillar

The journey of the Small Tortoiseshell begins with its larvae, which are predominantly black, adorned with a pale yellow line along their backs and additional yellow markings on each segment. These caterpillars are also characterized by tufts of spiny hairs, providing a form of defense. As they mature, their coloration transitions to a more yellow hue, reflecting their growth and development.

Small Tortoiseshell PupaPupa

Transforming into a pupa, the Small Tortoiseshell encapsulates itself in a chrysalis that mimics a dry leaf. This light brown casing is sprinkled with golden spots and bands, serving as a masterful camouflage against predators during this vulnerable stage.

Adult Butterfly

Sexual Dimorphism: The adult butterflies display minor differences between sexes, primarily in size and the intensity of their coloration, with males often showcasing brighter colors.

Color and Appearance: In its glory, the wings of the Small Tortoiseshell unfold to reveal a rich tapestry of reddish-orange, complemented by black and yellow markings, and a ring of blue spots near the edges. The underside of the wings presents a more subdued appearance, aiding in camouflage.

Aglais urticaeSmall Tortoiseshell ButterflyAverage Wingspan: The wingspan of the Small Tortoiseshell ranges between 4.5 to 6.2 cm, allowing for swift and agile flight.

Flight Pattern: Characterized by its rapid and direct flight, this butterfly is an adept flyer, capable of navigating through various terrains with ease.

Small Tortoiseshell EggsEggs

The reproductive cycle of the Small Tortoiseshell begins with the laying of bright green eggs in clusters on the leaves of host plants. A single batch can contain up to 80 eggs, reflecting the species’ potential for population growth.

Quick Facts

DistributionFound across temperate Europe, Asia Minor, Central Asia, China, Nepal, Siberia, Mongolia, Korea, Japan, and the Himalayan regions of India.
HabitatThrives in a wide array of habitats, showing a particular fondness for human-made gardens.
Host PlantsPrimarily feeds on the common nettle (Urtica dioica).
Adult DietSustains on the nectar of flowers.

How to Identify Small Tortoiseshell?

Identifying the Small Tortoiseshell is a rewarding experience for nature enthusiasts. Look for its vibrant reddish-orange wings bordered with black and dotted with blue and yellow markings. The wingspan, ranging from 4.5 to 6.2 cm, is a useful metric, along with its unique flight pattern, which is fast and linear. Observing the butterfly’s preference for nettle plants can also aid in identification. The caterpillar stage, with its black body, yellow lines, and spiny hairs, is distinctive. Spotting a Small Tortoiseshell in gardens or during its flight can be a captivating sight, offering a glimpse into the rich biodiversity of our planet.

Did You Know?

  • The Small Tortoiseshell butterfly exhibits a preference for flowers reflecting colors at the extreme ends of the visible spectrum to humans, specifically violet and red wavelengths.
  • Unlike many butterfly species, young caterpillars of the Small Tortoiseshell live communally, providing safety in numbers, before transitioning to a solitary lifestyle as they mature.
  • This butterfly is celebrated as the national butterfly of Denmark, symbolizing its cultural and ecological significance.
  • The Small Tortoiseshell’s ability to hibernate allows it to be one of the first butterflies to emerge in spring, heralding the change of seasons.


The Small Tortoiseshell is more than just a beautiful butterfly; it is a symbol of resilience, adaptation, and the interconnectedness of nature. Through each stage of its life cycle, from the vibrant caterpillar to the majestic adult butterfly, it plays a crucial role in the ecosystems it inhabits. By understanding and appreciating the Small Tortoiseshell, we gain insight into the broader ecological web and our place within it.

Small Tortoiseshell Pictures

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: February 23, 2024. ✅ Verified by: Butterfly Team