The Small Heath is an inconspicuous butterfly that flies only in sunshine and rarely settles more than a metre above the ground. Its wings are always kept closed when at rest. Underside of forewing has eyespot at tip. Hindwing banded with brown, grey and cream. The number of broods and the flight periods are variable and adults may be seen continuously from late April to September on some sites in southern England.

This relatively widespread butterfly can occupy a range of habitat types and, although its range has changed little, many colonies have disappeared in recent decades. Widespread in Britain and Ireland.

Size and Family

  • Family: Browns
  • Size: Small
  • Wing Span Range (male to female): 34-38mm

Conservation Status

  • Butterfly Conservation priority: High 
  • Section 41 species of principal importance under the NERC Act in England
  • Section 42 species of principal importance under the NERC Act in Wales
  • Northern Ireland Priority Species
  • UK BAP status: Priority Species (research only)                     
  • European status: Not threatened

Caterpillar Foodplants

Fine grasses, especially fescues (Festuca spp.), meadow-grasses (Poa spp.), and bents (Agrostis spp.).



    Occurs on grassland where there are fine grasses, especially in dry, well-drained situations where the sward is short and sparse. Typical habitats include; heathland, downland and coastal dunes, but it is also found on road verges, moorland and in woodland rides.


    • Countries: England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales
    • Found throughout Britain and Ireland
    • Distribution Trend Since 1970’s  = -29%

    Small Heath (underwing) by Jim Asher

    Small Heath (underwing)

    Small Heath (male & female) by Jim Asher

    Small Heath (male & female)