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Butterflies of temperate Asia
Small Tortoiseshell
Aglais urticae chinensis  LINNAEUS, 1758
Family - NYMPHALIDAE
subfamily - NYMPHALINAE
Tribe - NYMPHALINI
Aglais urticae chinensis Sichuan, China Tony Hoare
Introduction
The Small Tortoiseshell occurs across the whole of Europe and temperate Asia. The closely related and very similar species Aglais kashmirensis is found in mountainous regions of Kashmir, Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet. In the western Himalayas a third species occurs, Aglais ladakensis, which looks like a very heavily marked version of urticae. The only other Aglais species is milberti which occurs in the USA and Canada.
Habitats
To be completed.
Lifecycle
In spring, female Small Tortoiseshells are often seen flying around young nettle patches, where they lay their greenish eggs in large untidy heaps of 80-100 on the underside of the upper leaves. Often more than one female will lay eggs on the same leaf, sometimes simultaneously. The females usually choose young plants growing near the edge of the nettle bed, and always growing in warm, sunny and sheltered conditions.
The eggs hatch after about 12 days. Immediately after hatching, the larvae devour their empty egg shells, and then spin a communal silk web around the terminal leaves of the nettles. They shelter within the web at night, or in adverse weather conditions, and feed avidly whenever the sun shines.
As they grow, they split up into progressively smaller groups, spinning a new web after each moult. The final instar sees a change in behaviour, with the larvae abandoning their webs entirely and living solitarily. By this time they are a dull blackish colour, spiky, with broad yellow lines running along their backs and sides. These lines are usually very prominent, but in some batches of larvae they can be pale and obscure. The fully grown larvae can often be seen curled in a J-shaped posture, resting on nettle leaves, and if disturbed will coil into a tight circle and drop to the ground.
The chrysalis is variable in colour, ranging from grey to olive or buff, often with a pinkish or golden metallic sheen. It can be found suspended by the cremaster, on woody stems, fence posts, walls, or beneath the stems or leaves of nettles. The adults emerge at dawn, about 12 days after pupation.
Adult behaviour

Males establish vantage points in the early afternoon, from which they await passing females. When a female flies by she is intercepted and the courtship ritual begins. The male chases her until she settles on the ground. If she is receptive she opens her wings and the male approaches her from behind, with his wings also open. He then steps onto her hindwings, which he vigorously drums with with his antennae. The pair then fly a short distance and repeat the process. Any other males which attempt to interfere are briskly chased away by the resident male, who then returns to his female to continue wing-drumming.

This bonding process continues for several hours, until just before dusk, when the female accepts the male's advances. At this point she leads him to a sheltered and shady spot, typically beneath a bush or hedge. Both sexes then hold their wings erect, and the male walks alongside the female, and curves his abdomen to copulate. After about 20 minutes the pair straighten out to face opposite directions. They remain copulated in this position until the following morning.

 

 

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