Insects of Britain and Ireland: butterflies

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L. Watson and M. J. Dallwitz


Adults. Wingspan 55–62 mm; the fringes conspicuously light-and-dark banded. Slender-bodied to medium built; short-bodied. The eyes hairy. Antennae reaching noticeably over halfway to the wingtip. The antennal clubs abrupt; flattened (blunt). Labial palps ascending. Having only 4 fully developed legs (forelegs with two tarsal joints and brushlike in males, those of females having 4 tarsal joints with short setae). Fore-legs without a tibial epiphysis. Tibiae of middle legs 2-spurred. Posterior tibiae 2-spurred.

Forewings. Forewings apically pointed. The outer and hind margins angled at about 104–105 degrees. The outer margins angulated; scalloped. Uppersides of the forewings bright orange-brown to red-orange (the extent of red suffusion variable); ambiguously with a conspicuous discal mark; with short transverse black and yellowish blotches from the costa and a small white mark near the apex, black spots and blotches elsewhere, and a black sub-terminal band containing blue spots along the outer margin.

Hindwings. Hindwings broadly rounded; slightly tailed; with the outer margins scalloped. Uppersides of the hindwings orange-brown, or red-orange; conspicuously patterned; without a discal mark; orange in the middle, blackish on the inner half, and with a scalloped black band containing blue spots along the outer margin.

Undersides of wings. Undersides of the forewings mirroring the pattern of the upper surface, but cryptically coloured in buff and fuscous.

Undersides of the hindwings mirroring the pattern of of the upper surface, but cryptically coloured in buff and fuscous; without metallic markings.

Wing venation. Forewings 12–13 veined; without basally dilated veins. Forewings with 2 tubular anal veins (the inner one being weaker and falling well short of the termen, but indisputably tubular proximally); the anal veins of the forewings comprising 1b and 1c; vein 1b furcate proximally to simple. Forewings with a discal cell; vein 2 departing from the cell less than three-quarters of the distance from its base (from about the middle). Forewing veins 8 and 9 out of 7, the rest separate.

Hindwings 9 veined; without a praecostal spur; with 2 anal veins; exhibiting vein 1a; the anal veins comprising 1a and 1b. Hindwings with a closed discal cell; the transverse vein complete. 7 veins arising from the hindwing cell. The cell-derived hindwing veins 3+4 proximally joined (connate).

Eggs, larvae, pupae. Eggs barrel-shaped to broadly conical (tapered to the apically concave apex); longitudinally ribbed (about 9-ribbed). The larvae hairy; with rows of bristly spines; exposed feeders. On Urtica.

Pupae ridged and angular; conspicuously patterned; with shining-metallic markings; exposed, with no coccoon; suspended from the tail (cremaster), with no median silk girdle.

British representation. 1 species. Aglais urticae (Small Tortoise-shell). The adults abroad May to October, or September to April (i.e., throughout the year); hibernating.

Status in Britain. Indigenous (and supplemented by immigrants).

Distribution. Northern Scotland, southern Scotland, northern England, English Midlands, East Anglia, Wales, southeast England, central southern England, southwest England, Isle of Wight, and Ireland. Frequenting open places. Habitats calcareous and non-calcareous.

Comments. A brisk, irregular flier.

Classification. Superfamily Papilionoidea. Nymphalidae.

Illustrations. • Aglais urticae (Small Tortoise-shell): photos. • Aglais urticae (Small Tortoise-shell): egg, larva, pupa. • Larvae of A. urticae, Inachis io, Nymphalis antiopa: Duponchel (1849). • Aglais urticae (Small Tortoise-shell: Hübner/Curtis). • Vanessa atalanta, Cynthia cardui, C. virginiensis and Aglais urticae: Newman, 1871.

To view the illustrations with detailed captions, go to the interactive key. This also offers full and partial descriptions, diagnostic descriptions, differences and similarities between taxa, lists of taxa exhibiting or lacking specified attributes, and distributions of character states within any set of taxa.

Cite this publication as: ‘Watson, L., and Dallwitz, M.J. 2008 onwards. Insects of Britain and Ireland: butterflies. Version: 16th May 2016.’.