Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Small Tortoiseshell

The Small Tortoiseshell is a hibernating butterfly, spending most of it's life asleep. They are found throughout Britain, and the sexes are alike, the easiest way to tell the difference between the male and female is by the Abdomen. There are 2 broods a year.

Female Small tortoiseshell
Female Small Tortoiseshell

Male Small Tortoiseshell
Male Small Tortoiseshell

They normally first start to emerge from hibernation in March, but it is possible to see this beautiful butterfly in any month of the year, even during the winter if the weather is warm enough to wake it from it's hibernation. The earliest i have seen one was in the month of January.

The courtship can last several hours, and normally takes place in the afternoon of a warm Spring day. When the male finally wins over the female its late afternoon and, mating takes place overnight.

Small Tortoiseshells photographed during their long courtship on Common Nettles
Where she will eventually lay her eggs [ovum]

The female commonly lays her eggs in large clusters on the undersides of Common Nettle leaves in full sun, Small Nettle is also used. The larva emerge 2-3 weeks later.

Small Tortoiseshell eggs on the underside of a Nettle leaf

The larva live in communal tents, and are quite easy to find, especially as the caterpillars grow bigger. There are four moults in all, [5 instars].

1st instar Small Tortoiseshell larva

The pupa attaches itself to a plant stem or a leaf, where it hangs up-side down by the means of a Cremaster. This stage lasts anywhere between  2-4 weeks [depending on the time of year, and the weather] with the 1st brood emerging as early as the middle of May.

Small Tortoiseshell Pupa
A Small Tortoiseshell Pupa shortly before the butterfly emerges
The wing patterns/colours showing through the casing

An emerging Small Tortoiseshell 
 On one particular occasion, i found what i thought was a Red Admiral larval tent. But, when i carefully opened the tent,  to my surprise i found a Small Tortoiseshell hanging inside by it's Cremaster. The only one i have come across.

The tent of a Small Tortoiseshell Pupa

The beautiful gold coloured variety of a Small Tortoiseshell Pupa, found within the tent
made of Nettle leaves

All photographs are the copyright of Nick Broomer

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