Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly - Western Isles - Hebrides Insects

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly- Balallan - Lewis - Outer Hebrides

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly - Western Isles
Aglais urticae

The small Tortoiseshell butterfly is well known and commonly found in The Western Isles - Scotland and The UK.

Decline of The Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly
This lovely butterfly is probably one of Britain's most familiar butterflies - but in recent years this butterfly has shown declines. The declines are actually very fluctual and in some years they really are quite scarce - whilst in other years these butterflies are really quite common and abundant.

These cycles are believed to be linked to spring and early summer temperatures, which affect both the butterfly, and its larval parasitoids.

Recent evidence also suggests that common wasps are major predators of the larvae, and it is likely that in years when wasps are abundant, Small Tortoiseshell numbers are greatly depleted.

Small tortoiseshell caterpillars are yellow with dense black speckling and two yellow lines down their back and one along each side. They have black spines along their sides and back. Caterpillars feed on nettles, spinning leaves together.

This species will rest with its wings closed but will open and close them rapidly, flashing their bright colours to confuse and alarm predators.

Nettles and the Small Tortoishell Butterfly
This butterfly’s scientific name, Aglais urticae, is partly derived from urtica meaning stinging nettle. Aglaia was one of the three Graces, a daughter of Zeus admired for her beauty, and the choice of this name reflects the elegance of the small tortoiseshell.

Butterfly Overview - Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly
Latin name
Aglais urticae

Declining in recent years
The Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly flies quite fast, but as soon as it settles anywhere you immediately see the beauty of this butterfly

This bright orange and black. with black and yellow markings on the forewings and a ring of blue spots or crescents around the edge of the wings. Underneath, they are camouflaged dark grey and brown. sexes are similar in appearance The similar Large Tortoiseshell is extinct in Britain. Adults emerge from hibernation on the first warm spring days and look for mates.

Size Wing Span Range (male to female) - 50-56mm

The Small Tortoishell butterfly likes the stinging nettles and thistles where it often lays its eggs, it often hibernates in sheds and outbuildings
Adults drink nectar from flowers. Caterpillars eat stinging nettles.

May to September
Females often lay their eggs on tender, young stinging nettles. Caterpillars hatch some 10 days later. The caterpillars spin a dense web over the plant’s growing tip. The caterpillars live communally for most of their lives, dispersing to pupate. Caterpillars are bristly and black with two discontinuous yellow lines along their sides. Their bright colours warn predators that they are poisonous.

This butterfly has two broods per year and it is only the adults from the second brood which will hibernate over winter.

Misc. Info
In the Western Isles you will see the adult small tortoiseshell butterflies between March and October and the caterpillars from May to August. This resident butterfly has a wide distribution, and is common throughout Britain. Elsewhere it is widespread in Europe, and reaches as far east as the Pacific coast of Asia

In recent years there has been a decline in the number of small tortoiseshell butterflies and at the moment scientists are still unsure as to the exact cause. One suggestion is that a parasitic fly, prevalent on the continent, is attacking the larvae of the small tortoiseshell, this theory ties in with the fact that its decline has been most noticeable in the southern half of the UK.

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