Small tortoiseshell butterflies

Guest blogger: Richard Fox, Butterfly Conservation.

The small tortoiseshell is one of the UK's most colourful butterflies. It is very familiar too, thanks to its close association with people. Small tortoiseshells hibernate in our buildings, breed in wayside and farmland nettle patches and then throng to our gardens to feed up on nectar before winter returns.

Small tortoiseshell by Jim Asher

June is great for small tortoiseshell spotting. The butterflies that emerged from hibernation in the spring are coming to the end of their lives by early June having, hopefully, laid lots of eggs. Towards the end of the month, in the south at least, the next generation of small tortoiseshells are starting to fly.

Small tortoiseshell caterpillars by Peter Eeles

In addition, throughout the month, you can hunt for the caterpillars. They are easy to spot as they live in large groups, near the tops of stinging nettles and spin an untidy mess of silken webbing to provide protection from predators. Large, sunny nettle beds are preferred.

Small tortoiseshell on lavender by Matt Berry

Although the small tortoiseshell remains widespread, its numbers have declined drastically (a 77% decline over the past 10 years). The cause is not fully understood, but everyone can help improve our knowledge by reporting sightings of Small Tortoiseshells in July and August, as part of the Big Butterfly Count.

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