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Small tortoiseshell

Aglais urticae

Photo: Small tortoiseshell
Weights and measures
Length from 23 to 30 mm
Animal description
The Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) is a striking and well-known butterfly species native to the temperate regions of Eurasia. With its vibrant colors and distinctive patterns, it has captivated the attention of nature enthusiasts and scientists alike. This medium-sized butterfly boasts a wingspan that typically ranges from 45 to 55 millimeters, providing a canvas for its vivid and intricate designs.

The upper side of the Small Tortoiseshell's wings features a mesmerizing palette of orange, black, and yellow. The forewings are predominantly orange, adorned with black and yellow spots that create a captivating contrast. The black spots near the tips of the forewings are particularly prominent, surrounded by patches of pale yellow or white, which serve to highlight their intensity. The hindwings are edged with a unique pattern of blue crescents, nestled between black and orange markings, adding to the butterfly's distinctive appearance. This combination of colors not only makes the Small Tortoiseshell visually appealing but also serves as a warning to potential predators about its unpalatable taste.

The underside of the wings presents a stark contrast to the brightness of the upperside, featuring a more subdued color palette that allows the butterfly to blend seamlessly into its surroundings when at rest. This camouflage is particularly effective during hibernation, a unique behavior among butterflies that the Small Tortoiseshell exhibits. The butterfly seeks refuge in dark, sheltered places such as sheds or hollow trees during the winter, emerging again in the spring to continue its life cycle.

Caterpillars of the Small Tortoiseshell are equally distinctive, with their black bodies covered in spiky, branched spines. These spines provide a measure of defense against predators, while the caterpillar's diet of stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) contributes to its growth and development. The caterpillars live communally in webbed nests on the nettles, feeding voraciously until they are ready to pupate.

The Small Tortoiseshell is a highly adaptable species, thriving in a wide range of habitats including gardens, meadows, and woodland edges. Its preference for nectar-rich flowers, such as thistles, makes it a common sight in gardens and fields throughout its range. The butterfly's lifecycle and behavior are closely tied to the seasonal availability of these flowers, with adults often seen basking in the sun to warm their bodies before taking flight in search of nectar.

Despite its beauty and adaptability, the Small Tortoiseshell has faced challenges in recent years, including habitat loss and climate change. However, conservation efforts aimed at preserving its natural habitats and the plants it relies on for food and breeding are helping to ensure that this remarkable butterfly continues to flourish across its range.

In summary, the Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) is a captivating species, renowned for its vibrant colors, distinctive patterns, and fascinating lifecycle. Its presence adds beauty and diversity to the ecosystems it inhabits, making it a cherished subject of study and admiration for butterfly enthusiasts and conservationists alike.
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