There are two or three overlapping broods between April and October with peaks usually May and June, July to August then September to October. In the northern Dales this butterfly is often the first one seen in spring and the last one seen in autumn.
The life cycle is complex and unusual for a butterfly, it being capable of overwintering as either a larva or a pupa.
Pale eggs are laid singly on the underside of many species of grass blades, especially False Brome Brachypodium sylvaticum, Cock's-foot Dactylis glomerata, Yorkshire Fog Holcus lanatus and Common Couch Elytrigia repens. The female chooses sunny areas in spring and autumn, but shadier sites in summer.
Development is very sensitive to temperature and may vary from site to site. The yellow-striped green larvae continue feeding on and off through winter whenever the temperature rises above 6°C and pupal stages vary from as little as 10 days in summer to several months through winter. The mid- to late-summer in Yorkshire often has two distinct peaks resulting from different growth speeds of overwintered larvae and pupae. Cool weather in June can effectively separate these two peaks by inhibiting the emergence of the second spring flight and extending its period into early July. This also has the effect of producing a later than usual peak emergence in August onwards. A partial third brood may occur in October.
A proportion of males, often those with four upper hindwing spots, are territorial, perching on sunlit vegetation about one metre from the ground and watching for passing females and defending against patrolling males. Other males, often the 3-spotted variety, and especially those from the summer brood, patrol through their breeding areas searching for females. Females spend much time high in the canopy of trees except when egg laying. Males and females also feed high up on honeydew, although if this is unavailable they will nectar on flowers and also feed on fruit.