Family - NYMPHALIDAE
Tribe - NYMPHALINI
© Tony Hoare
Small Tortoiseshell occurs across the whole of Europe and temperate
Asia. The closely related and very similar species
Aglais kashmirensis is found in
mountainous regions of Kashmir, Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet. In the
western Himalayas a third species occurs,
Aglais ladakensis, which looks like a very heavily marked
version of urticae. The only other
Aglais species is
milberti which occurs in the USA and Canada.
To be completed.
In spring, female Small Tortoiseshells
are often seen flying around young nettle patches, where they lay
their greenish eggs in large untidy heaps of 80-100 on the underside
of the upper leaves. Often more than one female will lay eggs on the
same leaf, sometimes simultaneously. The females usually choose
young plants growing near the edge of the nettle bed, and always
growing in warm, sunny and sheltered conditions.
The eggs hatch after about 12 days.
Immediately after hatching, the larvae devour their empty egg
shells, and then spin a communal silk web around the terminal leaves
of the nettles. They shelter within the web at night, or in adverse
weather conditions, and feed avidly whenever the sun shines.
As they grow, they split up into
progressively smaller groups, spinning a new web after each moult.
The final instar sees a change in behaviour, with the larvae
abandoning their webs entirely and living solitarily. By this time
they are a dull blackish colour, spiky, with broad yellow lines
running along their backs and sides. These lines are usually very
prominent, but in some batches of larvae they can be pale and
obscure. The fully grown larvae can often be seen curled in a
J-shaped posture, resting on nettle leaves, and if disturbed will
coil into a tight circle and drop to the ground.
The chrysalis is variable in colour, ranging from grey to olive or
buff, often with a pinkish or golden metallic sheen. It can be found
suspended by the cremaster, on woody stems, fence posts, walls, or
beneath the stems or leaves of nettles. The adults emerge at dawn,
about 12 days after pupation.
vantage points in
from which they
await passing females. When a female flies by she is intercepted and
the courtship ritual begins. The male chases her until she settles on
the ground. If she is receptive she opens her wings and the male
approaches her from behind, with his wings also open. He then
which he vigorously drums with with
his antennae. The pair then fly a short distance and repeat the
other males which attempt to interfere are briskly chased away by the
resident male, who then returns to his female to continue
continues for several hours, until just before dusk, when
the female accepts the
At this point
she leads him to a sheltered and shady spot, typically
a bush or
hedge. Both sexes then hold their wings erect,
and the male walks alongside the female, and curves his abdomen to
copulate. After about 20 minutes the pair straighten out to face
opposite directions. They remain
in this position until the following morning.