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Butterfly taxonomy (classification) The skippers The swallowtails The whites The hairstreaks, coppers and blues. Includes the Duke of Burgundy. The nymphalids, fritillaries and browns. Includes the Monarch.
Small-Heath-Cambridge 8 August 2010 I9T0893
Wingspan
Male: 33mm
Female: 37mm
Photo © IainLeach
Small Heath

Coenonympha pamphilus
Number: 59.005
B&F No.: 1627
Family:Nymphalidae (Swainson, 1827)
Subfamily:Satyrinae (Boisduval, 1833)
Tribe:Coenonymphini (Tutt, 1896)
Genus:Coenonympha (Hübner, 1819)
Subgenus: 
Species:pamphilus (Linnaeus, 1758)
Subspecies:pamphilus (Linnaeus, 1758)
 rhoumensis (Harrison, 1948)
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  Introduction  

Despite its name, the Small Heath is not confined to heathland and can be found in a wide variety of habitats. The main distinguishing feature of this species is that this is the smallest of our 'browns' and is closer in size to a skipper, Common Blue or Brown Argus than its relatives, such as the Meadow Brown. However, its fluttering flight is quite different from that of the skippers and blues and is relatively-easy to identify in the field. This charming little butterfly always settles with its wings closed, where the eye spot on the underside of the forewing is usually visible, acting as a decoy to any predator. The forewings are tucked behind the hindwings when roosting for long periods, or in dull weather, the butterfly looking quite inconspicuous as the browns and greys of the underside of the hindwing blend in with their surroundings.

This is a widespread butterfly and can be found over most of the British Isles, with the exception of Orkney and Shetland and mountainous regions. It lives in discrete colonies and adults rarely venture far from the colony. However, the odd adult will venture further afield and will colonise nearby habitat if it is suitable.

Coenonympha pamphilus ssp. pamphilus

This species was first defined in Linnaeus (1758) as shown here (type locality: Europe). The nominate form is found throughout the range of this species, with the exception of some area of the Hebrides in north-west Scotland, as discussed under ssp. rhoumensis.


Small Heath Male, Forden South Dale 4-June-06 [Jeff.S.Barker]
Male
Photo © Jeff.S.Barker
Small Heath - Chaldon, Surrey 5-June-10
Male Underside
Photo © Vince Massimo
Small Heath - imago - Middletown Hill, Powys - 24-May-09 [Rod Trevaskus]
Female
Photo © Rod Trevaskus
Small-Heath-York 10 August 2009 I9T1076
Female Underside
Photo © IainLeach

Coenonympha pamphilus ssp. rhoumensis

This subspecies was first defined in Harrison (1948) as shown here (type locality: Isle of Rhum, Scotland). This subspecies is found on the Isle of Rhum in the North Ebudes of Scotland, where it is widespread and common. Harrison (1951) extends its distribution to North Uist, South Uist, Eriskay and "one or two of the smaller members of" the Barra isles (but not Barra itself) and Harrison (1952) further extends this to Raasay where he also says "It is perhaps worthy of note that on Rhum the butterfly flew at an elevation of over 1,000 ft. on Barkeval and at 1,500 ft. on Ruinsival, whilst it occurred at sea level, with Argynnis selene and its congener C.tullia, along the northern shores of Loch Scresort".

Wiltshire (1967) questions the validity of a separate subtaxon based on specimens in the Rothschild-Cockayne-Kettlewell collection, taken in the Hebrides, which conformed to the nominate form. This subspecies differs from the nominate subspecies as follows:

1. Forewing underside has a duller ground colour and a narrower pale area around the eye spot.

2. Hindwing underside largely grey rather than brown. The white band is inconspicuous, narrower and often absent.

Coenonympha pamphilus ssp. rhoumensis (Harrison, 1948)

Forewings: on the underside with a duller brown ground colour and with the pale area around the ocellus narrower than in northern English specimens of the species.

Hindwings: on the underside English examples have the ground broken into three areas, a basal brownish portion tending to chestnut, a conspicuous yellowish-white median band, often quite broad, and a terminal or marginal band in which are to be seen the obsolescent brownish ocelli. In race rhoumensis the basal section is more or less grey sprinkled, its vestiture of greyish hairs preventing its ever appearing of a brown hue, whilst the inconspicuous median hand, reduced in width and often obsolescent, especially toward the inner margin, is also of a greyer colour merging into that of the grey terminal band. Ocelli also greyer than in English specimens. On the whole, race rhoumensis tends to agree in the uniformity of its underside colouration with the race scotica, Stgr., of the allied species C. tullia.

Holotype ♂, allotype ♀ and 5 paratype ♂♂, Isle of Rhum, 9th-12th June; collected by J.W.H.H. and being deposited in the Hope Department, University Museum, Oxford.


Male
Male Underside
Female
Small Heath - imago - Kinloch, Isle of Rhum - Unknown date [Adrian Riley]
Female Underside
Photo © Adrian Riley

  Phenology  

Populations found in the north have one generation each year, while populations in the south have two generations each year and possibly three in exceptional years. Adults can be found continuously from late May until mid-September as a result. In all locations, it is the larva that overwinters.

Coenonympha pamphilus ssp. pamphilus


Coenonympha pamphilus ssp. rhoumensis


The chart(s) above have been correlated with the phenology plot below, taken from the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme. The blue line gives average counts over the full data set from 1976 to date, and the red line gives the average for the last year.


  Habitat  

This species can be found in many different habitats, especially those that are more open, such as grassland, heathland, railway embankments, disused quarries, meadows and sand dunes. It occurs only sparingly in woodland where it can be found in ones and twos along wide woodland rides. Wherever it occurs, the adults prefer a shorter grass sward than closely related species.

  Larval Foodplants  

The primary larval foodplants are Bents (various) (Agrostis spp.), Fescues (various) (Festuca spp.) and Meadow-grasses (various) (Poa spp.).

  Nectar Sources  

Adults feed primarily on Bramble (Rubus fruticosus), Buttercups (Ranunculus spp.), Devil's-bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis), Fleabane (Pulicaria dysenterica), Greater Stitchwort (Stellaria holostea), Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria), Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea), Tormentil (Potentilla erecta) and Yarrow (Achillea millefolium).

  Imago  

Males set up territories where they can be found perching, although they also spend time patrolling in search of a mate. When a male encounters another, the pair flies a few metres up into the air before separating. Virgin females will also zig-zag over the vegetation in search of a mate. Mating may happen at any time of day and a mating pair may remain coupled from as little as 10 minutes up to 5 hours.

Mated females tend to avoid male territories, flying over sparse grassland where they lay their eggs. Both sexes feed on a variety of nectar sources.

Coenonympha pamphilus ssp. pamphilus


Small Heath, ssp.pamphilus - Shipton Bellinger - 18-Aug-09
Photo © Denise
Small Heath - Crawley, Sussex 22-Aug-06
Photo © Vince Massimo
22-Aug-2006
Small Heath - imago - Hartslock - 28-Aug-04
Photo © Pete Eeles
28-Aug-2004
Small Heath - imago - Middletown Hill, Powys - 24-May-09 [Rod Trevaskus]
Photo © Rod Trevaskus
24-May-2009
Small Heath - Magdalen Hill Down - 16 Aug 2009
Photo © Clive
16-Aug-2009
small heath, female underside, barton common
Photo © geniculata
28-Jun-2009
Small Heath - Stockbridge Downs - 22-8-09
Photo © Gwenhwyfar
22-Aug-2009
Small Heath [Nick Sampford]
Photo © Nick Sampford
Small Heath - Chaldon, Surrey 5-June-10
Photo © Vince Massimo
05-Jun-2010
Small Heath - Stockbridge Down - 22 Aug 2010
Photo © Clive
22-Aug-2010
Small Heath - Stockbridge Down - 30 Aug 2010
Photo © Clive
30-Aug-2010
Small Heath, West Sussex (24 May 2012)
Photo © Mark Colvin
24-May-2012
Small Heath - Chaldon, Surrey 22-Aug-11
Photo © Vince Massimo
22-Aug-2011
Small Heath - Chaldon, Surrey 24-April-11
Photo © Vince Massimo
24-Apr-2011
Copulating Small Heath, Mill Hill (24 August 2011)
Photo © Mark Colvin
24-Aug-2011
Small-Heath-Cambridge 8 August 2010 I9T0778
Photo © IainLeach
Small-Heath-Cambridge 8 August 2010 I9T0893
Photo © IainLeach
Small-Heath-York 10 August 2009 I9T1076
Photo © IainLeach
Small-Heath-Lincoln 25 July 2009 I9T1275
Photo © IainLeach
Small Heath - male - Cerne Abbas, 19 May 2011
Photo © Colin Knight
19-May-2011
P1040282-800 Small Heath, Old Winchester Hill, 25/05/2012
Photo © Pauline
25-May-2012
Small Heath Male, Forden South Dale 4-June-06 [Jeff.S.Barker]
Photo © Jeff.S.Barker
04-Jun-2006
Small Heath - Friston, Sussex 9-Aug-2012
Photo © Neil Hulme
09-Aug-2012
Small Heaths, Mill Hill, West Sussex, 13 June 2013
Photo © Colin Knight
04-Jun-2013
Small Heath - imago - Greenham Common - 26-May-13
Photo © Pete Eeles
Small Heath Taken on Cannock Chase, Staffordshire 30/06/2013
Photo © DerekLees
Small Heath Butterfly taken on Cannock Chase 30/06/2013
Photo © DerekLees
Small Heath - Brandon, Suffolk 2011
Photo © Mike Young
Hod Hill, May-14-2014
Photo © andy brown

Coenonympha pamphilus ssp. rhoumensis


Small Heath - imago - Kinloch, Isle of Rhum - Unknown date [Adrian Riley]
Photo © Adrian Riley

  Aberrations  

Description to be completed.

Unclassified Aberrations


Small Heath albino
Photo © traplican
Small Heath albino
Photo © traplican
Small Heath (ab. obsoletissima) - Broughton Downs 1-Sept-2007
Photo © Ashywolf
31-Aug-2007
Small-Heath-Lincoln 25 July 2009 I9T2540 (extra underwing eyespot)
Photo © IainLeach
Small Heath - aberration - Vernditch Chase - 23-May-2010 [Tim Norriss]
Photo © Tim Norriss
Small Heath (ab.alba) - near Mayfield, Sussex 20-June-2014 [Mike Mullis]1
Photo © Mike Mullis
Small Heath (ab.alba) - near Mayfield, Sussex 20-June-2014 [Mike Mullis]2
Photo © Mike Mullis

  Ovum  

The almost-spherical eggs are laid singly on a grass blade or nearby vegetation. They are pale green when first laid, eventually turning straw-coloured and covered in blotches. This stage lasts around 2 weeks.


Small Heath - ovum - Bishop Middleham Quarry - 15-Jul-06 (2) [Wayne Jones]
Photo © Wayne Jones
Small Heath - ovum - Bishop Middleham Quarry - 15-Jul-06 [Wayne Jones]
Photo © Wayne Jones
Small Heath ovum 3-Sept-2013
Photo © Tony Moore
03-Sep-2013

  Larva  

Larvae spend most of their time tucked away at the base of a tuft of grass, feeding at night on the tender tips of grass blades. Depending on conditions, larvae will either go on to produce adults in the same year, or may overwinter.


Small Heath - larva - Thatcham - 17-Apr-05 (2) [REARED]
Photo © Pete Eeles
15-Apr-2005

  Pupa  

The pupa is formed, head down, attached to a plant stem by the cremaster. This stage lasts around 3 weeks.

  Similar Species  

Large Heath

Description to be completed.

  Videos  

No videos are currently available for this species.

  Sites  

Click here to see the distribution of this species overlaid with specific site information. Alternatively, select one of the sites listed below.

Sites
Airhouse Quarry, Alemoor West Loch and Meadow SSSI, Allan Water Hillhead SSSI, Arthur's Seat, Aston Rowant NNR, Aylesbeare Common, Badbury Rings, Beachy Head, Bedfont Lakes Country Park LNR, Bin Combe, Bishop Middleham Quarry, Box Hill, Broughton Down, Burnmouth Coast SSSI, Cambus O'May, Chobham Common, Coldingham Bay, Collard Hill, Coombe Heath, Denbies Hillside, Dowlaw Dean, Dunhog Moss SSSI, Eildon Hills, Ellerburn Bank, Ettrick Haughlands, Fleam Dyke, Glenkinnon Burn SSSI, Gordon Moss SSSI, Great Orme, Greenlaw Dean, Hangingshaw Burn, Hartwoodmyres, Horsenden Hill, Hounslow Heath LNR, Hutton Roof Crags, Irton Fell, Kenfig Pool, Kinloch, Larden Chase, Lauder Burn, Laughton Common Wood, Lindean Reservoir SSSI, Linn Dean, Mayford Pond, Meldon Hills, Mill Hill, Mynydd Marian, Old Castle Down, Old Down, Basingstoke, Over Cutting, Prees Heath, Pulborough Brooks (RSPB), Rookery, Roughlee, Shankend, Smardale Gill, St Abbs Head, St. Abbs Head to Fast Castle SSSI, Staines Moor, Sutton and Hollesley Commons, The Bell, Thornielee Forest, Threepwood Moss SSSI, Torr Works, Totternhoe Knolls and Quarry, Wall Common, White Sheet Hill, Whitlaw Mosses NNR, Windover Hill, Yair Hill Forest, Yoesden Bank

  Conservation Status  

This butterfly has shown a severe decline over the long term and is therefore a priority species for conservation efforts.

UK BAP StatusDistribution TrendPopulation Trend
Priority Species
Click here to access the Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) for this species.
DecreaseLarge Decrease

From The State of Butterflies in Britain and Ireland and the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP) (2007 review).


  Links  

The following links provide additional information on this butterfly.

  References  

The species description provided here references the following publications:

ReferenceDetails
Harrison (1948) Harrison, J.W.H.: A new race of Coenonympha pamphilus L. from the Hebrides. Entomologist's Record and Journal of Variation. 1948.
Harrison (1951) Harrison, J.W.H: Observations on the ranges, habitats and variation of the Rhopalocera of the Outer Hebrides. Entomologist's Monthly Magazine. 1951.
Harrison (1952) Harrison, J.W.H. and Morton, J.K.: Lepidoptera in the Isles of Raasay, Rhum, Lewis and Harris in 1951. The Entomologist. 1952.
Linnaeus (1758) Linnaeus, C.: Systema Naturae. Edn.10. 1758.
Wiltshire (1967) Wiltshire, E.P.: A Holiday in Ross-shire, Scotland in late July 1967 with notes on the Lepidoptera. Entomologist's Record and Journal of Variation. 1967.

  Copyright © Peter Eeles 2002-2014
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