Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)

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2023 photographs highlighted in green. Click on any photograph to go to an enlarged picture, or simply scroll down the page.

37587_male_Côte-d'Or_12Jun15 25524_male_Alpes-Maritimes_08Jun11 45266_male_Alpes-Maritimes_3Jul18 25634_male_Alpes-Maritimes_10Jun11

Urticae used to be very common in the UK, but seems noticeably less so in the last decade or two. One of my most vivid childhood memories is of urticae covering pink ice plants in local gardens. I have encountered urticae at very high altitudes of 2000m plus and with temperatures as low as 12C, when it has been the only butterfly on the wing (perhaps not surprisingly). Interestingly, urticae has much the same blue marginal marks as the Camberwell Beauty (Nymphalis antiopa).


It occurs throughout France but is described by the Lafranchis France book as rare in the south-east and the Mediterranean region. I would concur with this, hence the lack of photographic opportunities.

In the UK, there has been a dramatic decline in the numbers and this has been the subject of considerable research in recent years to determine the cause. It is believed to be because of attacks by a large and particularly nasty-looking parasitic fly, Sturmia bella.


However, in the past few years there does seem to have been a degree of recovery of the numbers, although not fully reaching the numbers of a two decades ago. This may be a case of a parasite damaging its own survival by wiping out the host, but the exact reasons are not fully known.




alt. m

37587 M a very fresh male, with rather limited black markings in the uph basal region, suggestive of the subspecies ichnusa, which it cannot be as this subspecies only occurs in Corsica and Sardinia. It has a very appealing deep fiery orange red colouring. 370


M I suspect this is a male on the basis of the end of the abdomen and the body length, but the sexes of many vanessids are very similar. If it was a rarity, it would be considered truly iconic.


45266 M a rather dusky and strongly marked male from the French Alpes at 2000m altitude. The blue marginal markings stand out very well. 2000


F I am guessing that this is a male in that it is taking salts rather than moisture.


44057 LARVA a fully-grown larva, with the characteristic yellow stripe along its back, differentiating it from the larvae of other species such as the Peacock (Aglais io) that feed on Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica). 1780