1. The similar-looking large tortoiseshell was a common butterfly in Victorian times, but is now considered to be extinct in the UK. Sightings are usually migrants or escapees from captivity.
2. Females usually lay their eggs in batches of 60-100 with young stinging nettles being the preferred location.
3. Caterpillars hatch after about 10 days and spin a dense web over the plant’s growing tip for protection.
4. Caterpillars are bristly and black with two discontinuous yellow lines along their sides. Their bright colours warn predators that they are poisonous.
5. Small tortoiseshells are one of the earliest flying butterflies in the UK. Adults can be seen from early spring through to late autumn.
6. When threatened by a predator, small tortoiseshell caterpillars swing their bodies from side to side in unison.
7. Both sexes are alike with a wingspan of 50-56 mm. Females can be slightly larger.
8. The adult butterflies are often seen nectaring on a wide variety of flowers and shrubs including dandelions, heathers and thistles.
9. The adults hibernate during the winter - you may be lucky enough to spot them in outbuildings like sheds and garages.
10. Unfortunately, over the last few years the small tortoiseshell butterfly has suffered a worrying decline, especially in the south. Research into the cause of this is ongoing, but a recently introduced parasitic fly called Sturmia bella is likely to be one factor.
What can you do?
To attract butterflies, such as the small tortoiseshell into your garden, plant nectar-rich borders for them to feed along and climbing Ivy and shrubs for overwintering insects. To find out more about encouraging butterflies into your garden visit Butterfly Conservation