Small Tortoiseshell
Aglais urticae


Switzerland, March 2012

Aglais urticae

Switzerland, February 2014

Aglais urticae

Switzerland, March 2014

Aglais urticae

Switzerland, March 2014

Switzerland, June 2006

Switzerland, 3rd February 2007

The underside is camouflaged for hibernation

Switzerland, 6th February 2006

Switzerland, 3rd February 2006

Switzerland, March 2006. The butterfly is on a ski piste (I moved it for its safety!)

Suffolk, 1978

Caterpillars living communally on nettles

Aglais urticae larvae

Older, more dispersed, caterpillars, Switzerland, May 2014

Aglais urticae larvae

Switzerland, May 2014

Larva on the point of pupating

Fresh pupa

The same pupa three and a half weeks later, near emergence

The small tortoiseshell is one of the most familiar butterflies, being common throughout Europe and on the wing from March or earlier until November or even December. I have seen small tortoiseshells in every month of the year (but not in every month of any single year) and in every European country I have visited, I think. However, this should not count against the fact it is also one of the most beautiful - something often overlooked!

The last picture above, taken in 1978, was for a long time the only picture I had of this insect, again precisely because it is so common. In 2004 I deigned to photograph an early one, when there was nothing else about, and since then I have taken plenty more at the beginning of the season.

Here in the Alps, the small tortoiseshell is the only butterfly to emerge while there is still plenty of snow around and it even seems to enjoy cruising over the pistes. The seventh picture above shows one that had settled on the snow, though it was a cloudy day and it had become torpid so I rescued it and put it on some exposed earth. Next time I skied past it had gone.