This is the smallest of the so-called 'browns' found in Britain and Ireland, with a wingspan of typically 3.4cm (males) and 3.8cm (females). Resting always with its wings closed, the Small Heath butterfly's diminutive size and distinctive forewing eyespots are helpful identification features. In flight this butterfly keeps close to the ground over short grassland, rarely venturing far into woodlands.
Despite its common name, the Small Heath butterfly is not confined to heathklands, and it can also be found in meadows, sand-dune systems, railway embankments and all sorts of scrubby grassland and wasteland,
The Small Heath is one of 39 members of the Coenonympha genus that are currently listed worldwide, and of these 14 have so far been recorded in Europe.
Very common and widespread across mainland Britain and Ireland, the Small Heath butterfly is also plentiful in central and southern Europe. The Small Heath is also found in parts of North Africa and Asia.
The larval foodplants of Small Heath butterflies are various fine grasses generally associated with dryish habitats. The eggs are laid singly, or occasionally in small clusters, on fine grasses, and the caterpillars overwinter in the third of (usually) four instars. The pupa is suspended head downwards from a plant stem.
In southern Britain and Ireland, Small Heath butterflies can be seen on the wing between June and September.