One butterfly with open wings and one with closed wings, showing the huge difference between them Active

Small Tortoiseshells. Photo: Mark Pike.

A widespread butterfly, commonly seen in gardens, but not doing so well in recent years, for reasons we do not know.

Where to see

Habitat: This is a mobile butterfly, so it can be found in many places, including gardens.

Caterpillar foodplants: Stinging nettles.

Best places: Widespread while on the wing, including gardens. May be found in houses and sheds over winter, as it hibernates as an adult butterfly.

Distribution map

Explore the Atlas to see historical distribution trends for this species.

When to see

Will emerge from hibernation in March or April and breed, with the new adults emerging to benefit from the summer weather. These then breed to produce the adults which will over-winter.

Sightings by month (last 5 years)*:

Sightings this year*:

Browse the sightings archive.


Size: Medium

A butterfly you cannot mix up with any other, except for the Large Tortoiseshell, which is very rare and mainly on Portland.

Males and females are similar.

There is a huge difference between the very colourful upperwings, and the dull underwings which give it very good camouflage.

Photo gallery

Tip: Click thumbnails to view full-size images.

*Note: The charts shown on this page are drawn only from casual sightings submitted to this website. Records from this website will be added to a lot more data collected throughout the year and used to compile the five-yearly Butterfly Atlases for Dorset and the UK.

Find more Small Tortoiseshell related content, including news and photos.