Copper Butterfly: All You Need to Know for Enthusiasts and Conservationists

The Copper Butterfly is a fascinating species that has captured the attention of nature enthusiasts around the world. This colorful and vibrant insect plays a crucial role in the ecosystem, acting as both a pollinator and an indicator of environmental health.

As you explore the world of Copper Butterflies, you’ll discover their captivating appearance, unique habitats, and fascinating behaviors. These beautiful creatures serve as an excellent example of the incredible diversity found within the insect world. Each variant of Copper Butterfly offers a distinctive combination of features that help it thrive in its specific environment.

By delving into the intriguing details of Copper Butterflies, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the delicate balance that exists in nature. From lifecycles and mating rituals to migration patterns and ecological roles, the Copper Butterfly offers an insightful perspective on the intricacies of the natural world.

Copper Butterfly Overview

Species and Distribution

The Copper Butterfly is a member of the Lycaenidae family and can be found across various continents such as North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Examples of Copper Butterfly species include:

  • Purplish Copper (Lycaena heteronea)
  • Blue Copper (Lycaena nivalis)
  • Snowy Copper (Lycaena rubidus)
  • Ruddy Copper (Lycaena xanthoides)
  • Great Copper (Lycaenidae)

Physical Characteristics

Copper butterflies are usually small to medium in size. Their wings showcase vibrant colors like:

  • Orange
  • Copper
  • Blue
  • Purple

The table below offers a comparison of the different species mentioned earlier:

Species Wing Color Distribution
Purplish Copper Orange-purple North America, Europe
Blue Copper Blue North America, Asia, Africa
Snowy Copper Orange North America, Europe
Ruddy Copper Reddish North America, Europe
Great Copper Bright orange North America, Asia

Physical features of Copper Butterflies:

  • Brightly colored wings
  • Small to medium size
  • Varied patterns on wings

Pros and cons of Copper butterflies as pollinators:

Pros:

  • Attract other pollinators due to their colorful appearance
  • Contribute to biodiversity

Cons:

  • May face threats from habitat loss and climate change
  • Limited distribution compared to other butterfly species

Life Cycle and Behavior

Eggs and Larvae

The life cycle of a Copper Butterfly begins with the female adult laying eggs on host plants. The tiny, spherical eggs usually hatch within a week, giving birth to the larvae stage. During this stage, the larvae feed on the leaves of the host plant, growing rapidly and shedding their skin several times.

Host plants for Copper Butterfly larvae:

  • Dock plants
  • Sorrel plants

Caterpillars and Pupa

The caterpillars, or larvae, continue to consume the host plant leaves until they are ready to transform into a pupa. This stage, also known as chrysalis, is when the caterpillar’s body undergoes significant changes. The pupal stage can last between 2-3 weeks before the adult butterfly emerges.

Copper Butterfly Pupa Characteristics:

  • Well-camouflaged
  • Hangs vertically

Adults and Mating

Once the adult Copper Butterfly emerges from its chrysalis, it has a short lifespan of about 2-3 weeks. The adults are mainly concerned with finding a mate and laying eggs to continue the next generation. Male and female Copper Butterflies can be distinguished by their wing colors and patterns.

Males Females
Color Bright copper Duller brown/green
Patterns Bold markings Less distinct markings

The adult Copper Butterflies are essential pollinators, feeding on nectar from various flowers. They play a crucial role in the ecosystem, helping plants reproduce and maintaining biodiversity.

Habitat and Ecology

Preferred Habitats

The Copper Butterfly thrives in various habitats with diverse vegetation. Some of their favorite locations include:

  • Woodland clearings
  • Gardens
  • Heathland
  • Waste ground
  • Chalk downlands

These habitats offer ample space for the Copper Butterfly to access essential resources, such as host plants and nectar sources.

Host Plants

The primary host plant for the Copper Butterfly is the common sorrel (Rumex acetosella). This plant serves as the main food source for the caterpillars.

Caterpillars will also sometimes feed on dock, another plant in the Rumex genus, when they cannot find common sorrel.

Nectar Sources

Adult Copper Butterflies rely on a variety of nectar plants to fuel their energetic flight patterns. Some examples of nectar sources include:

  • Flowers in gardens
  • Wildflowers in woodland clearings
  • Blooms in heathland areas

Ensuring a diverse selection of nectar sources helps support the Copper Butterfly in its natural habitats and urban environments.

Identification Tips

Wing Patterns and Colors

Copper Butterflies are known for their distinctive wing patterns and colors. Some common features include:

  • Predominantly orange or red wings
  • Dark brown or black spots on the wings
  • Iridescent wings in some species

For example, the American Copper Butterfly has an orange-red base color with dark brown to black spots scattered across its wings.

Size and Shape

Size and shape can help identify Copper Butterflies:

  • Wingspan: typically between 1 to 1.5 inches
  • Shape: their wings are usually triangular with rounded tips

Here’s a comparison of some Copper Butterfly species’ size:

Species Wingspan Range
American Copper 1 – 1.2 inches
European Common 1.2 – 1.4 inches
Orange-Tip Copper 1.3 – 1.5 inches

Sexual Dimorphism

Copper Butterflies exhibit sexual dimorphism, meaning males and females have different physical characteristics:

  • Males: often have brighter colors and more intense patterns on their wings
  • Females: usually have duller colors with gray or brown shades, sometimes with green accents

For example, in the Orange-Tip Copper species, males have bright orange wingtips, while females have dark brown spots and less vibrant colors.

Conservation Efforts

Conservation Status

The Copper Butterfly is a species that needs conservation attention. While specific conservation statuses may vary among its different subspecies, efforts to protect these creatures are essential for their survival.

Protected Habitats

To ensure the Copper Butterfly population remains healthy, protecting their natural habitats is crucial. Some examples of protected areas include:

  • National Wildlife Refuges
  • Natural Resources Conservation Service lands
  • Private conservation areas

In these protected habitats, the butterflies can thrive without the threat of habitat destruction or disruption of their ecosystem.

Promoting Conservation through Gardens

Individuals and communities can also contribute to Copper Butterfly conservation efforts by creating butterfly-friendly gardens. Planting native species that provide food and shelter for the butterflies can help increase their population numbers. Some garden elements to consider include:

  • Native plants: Choose plants that are native to your region, as these will be better suited for the Copper Butterfly.
  • Nectar sources: Offer a variety of nectar-rich flowers to attract and support the butterflies.
  • Host plants: Copper Butterfly caterpillars require specific host plants, such as sheep sorrel. Planting these types of plants will ensure a consistent food source.

Conservation efforts for Copper Butterflies, both at a larger scale and through individual actions, play a significant role in supporting these important pollinators in their natural ecosystems.

Additional Information

Flight Patterns and Fliers

  • The Small Copper butterfly (Lycaena phlaeas) and the American Copper butterfly (Lycaena phlaeas americana) exhibit territorial behavior.
  • They are often seen flying in sunny, open habitats.

Example:

You may spot a territorial Copper butterfly in meadows, gardens, or parks on a sunny day.

Subspecies and Variations

There are several subspecies and variations within the Copper butterfly family, including:

  • Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas):

    • Found in Europe, Asia, and North America
    • Wingspan: 22-27mm
  • American Copper (Lycaena phlaeas americana):

    • North American variation of Small Copper
    • Similar in appearance to its European cousin
  • Common Copper (Lycaena spp.):

    • Found in various locations worldwide
    • Resembles Small and American Copper butterflies
  • Large Copper (Lycaena dispar):

    • Found in parts of Europe and Asia
    • Wingspan: 33-40mm
    • Often has more orange coloration

Comparison table:

Butterfly Habitat Wingspan Coloration
Small Copper Global 22-27mm Orange, black spots
American Copper North America 22-27mm Orange, black spots
Common Copper Global Varies Orange, black spots
Large Copper Europe, Asia 33-40mm More orange

In conclusion, the Copper butterfly family is diverse and widespread, showcasing unique flight patterns and fliers. Each subspecies exhibits their own distinct features, with variations in size, habitat, and coloration.

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – American Copper

 

ORANGE & WHITE BLACK-SPOTTED UFO IN CT GARDEN (8-30-07)
Hello,
This tiny butterfly appeared in my garden, in Connecticut, today. It is especially fond of the fall asters. I’ve studied your entire butterfly collection and can’t find a match. Please help. Many thanks.
Susan B. Naumann

Hi Susan,
The reason you were unable to identify your American Copper, Lycaena phlaeas, in our archives is that your photo is the first we have received of this charming Gossamer Winged Butterfly.

Letter 2 – Bronze Copper

 

metalmark or something else? And infected haploas
Location: Kane County, Illinois
January 29, 2012 3:21 pm
Hi bugman,
Wondering what this small (maybe half inch) butterfly is? I thought it was a Nais Metalmark but the patterns are slightly off and the Nais metalmark doesn’t live anywhere near me… I found this butterfly in a prairie next to a small pond. It allowed me to get really close to snap the pic. It was mid may but really hot. … Thanks guys!
Signature: Sam

Bronze Copper

Hi Sam,
Since your two requests are unrelated, we are splitting your email into two distinct postings and dealing with them separately.  Your butterfly is not a Nais Metalmark.  It is one of the Coppers in the genus
Lycaena.  At first we thought it might be the American Copper, but the markings on the undersides of the lower wings more closely resembles the markings on the Bronze Copper, Lycaena hyllus, based on photographs posted to BugGuide, so we believe that is the correct identification.  The Bronze Copper also ranges in Illinois according to the data map on BugGuide.

Letter 3 – Bronze Copper and Purplish Copper

 

Hello Daniel – Two coppers
Beauty is where you find it, even in the weedy “waste” land of a vacant lot destined for strip mall development. This bronze copper and purplish copper are from Winnipeg, Canada. Coppers are one of my favorite groups of butterflies; ubiquitous and beautiful if you take the time to look closely, but too often overlooked. I noticed you only had one example in your collection so I thought you could use a few more. By the way, this unimpressive little site was home to 4 other species of butterflies and at least 3 damselfly and dragonfly species. You have a great site and I check it almost daily to see what’s new. Thanks.
Karl

Bronze Copper Purplish Copper

Hi Karl,
Thanks for your wonderful letter and your great photos of a Bronze Copper, Lycaena hyllus, and a Purplish Copper, Lycaena helloides. Many years ago, here in Los Angeles where land is such a hot commodity, we embarked on a campaign to have a vacant lot on every block to be used as an undeclared park. Weeds on vacant lots are major insect attracters, and the Gossamer Winged Butterflies are well represented. In Los Angeles, we don’t see Coppers much, but we do see the Blues and Hairstreaks. Also, thanks so much for including the site photo as our readers should know they don’t need to go to exotic locales to experience the beauty of nature.

Letter 4 – probably Female Purplish Copper

 

not a Purplish Copper?
Hi Lisa Anne and Daniel,
I would like help identifying this butterfly photographed on Casper Mountain, central WY. I saw many Purplish Coppers and thought this to be a female, but is it? The hindwings do not look correct.
As always, thanks

Dwaine

Hi Dwaine,
While your specimen does not resemble the photos posted to BugGuide of the Purplish Copper, Lycaena helloides, it is a pretty close match to a female Purplish Copper illustrated in Jeffrey Glassberg’s book, Butterflies Through Binoculars: The West. We believe this is a somewhat drab female Purplish Copper

Letter 5 – Small Copper from Lesbos

 

Subject: Butterfly
Location: Lesbos
June 28, 2017 1:15 pm
Daniel,
You were kind enough to identify some insects on Lesbos for me some time ago. I have now been back to Lesbos and have s few more for you. I hope to use these in a talk I have been asked to do for an RSPB group and would appreciate your help as I have been unable to identify them on line,
Regards
Signature: William Smiton

Small Copper

Dear William,
We began to research this Copper Butterfly with the Checklist of the Butterflies of Lesvos that is included on the Lesvos Birding site.  Two coppers are listed and the Small Copper link led us to this image on FlickR of
Lycaena phlaeas.  We learned on Learn About Butterflies that:  “The Small Copper is a very widespread species, occurring in Canada, the eastern United States, the Canary Isles, almost all of Europe including sub-arctic areas of Scandinavia, and across temperate Asia as far east as Japan. It also occurs across much of Africa, from the Atlas mountains and north African grasslands, south to Kenya and Malawi.”  According to BugGuide, the common name is American Copper, but that just won’t do for Lesbos.  BugGuide does note:  “The name American Copper is misleading, as there is nothing particularly American about this species. It is found across Eurasia and in mountains of northern and eastern Africa, and it bears many vernacular names depending upon the region found. It is the most widespread species of the genus Lycaena, and among the most widespread of all butterfly species.”

Letter 6 – Violet Copper Butterfly from Belgium

 

Subject: Small Butterfly
Location: Ekeren
July 21, 2015 1:55 pm
Good day,
I should like to know what kind of butterfly the one in pictures is.
I took the photos on my balcony, just outside the city of Ekeren Belgium, it is the fist time that I see one of those butterflies.
Thanks and best regards
Signature: Marco

Possibly Violet Copper
Violet Copper

Dear Marco,
This is one of the Gossamer Winged Butterflies in the family Lycaenidae, and we have narrowed it down to a Copper in the genus
Lycaena.  We believe it might be a Violet Copper, Lycaena helle, which is pictured on EuroButterflies where it states:  “This gorgeous little butterfly has a very patch distribution within its range of central and northern Europe. Where it does occur it is very local and colonies are hard to find. The adults are so small the butterfly is difficult to locate too. As a result it is a difficult species to encounter. It can be common when found but most of my experiences are of just a few individuals.  Identification & Similar species: The butterfly is distinctive and unlikely to be confused with other coppers, Lycaena. The upperside violet sheen is striking and particularly noticeable in the male.”  Sadly, your lovely images do not show the dorsal side of the wings.  While the spotted pattern on the ventral side of the wings is very close, it is not identical, but we believe that local populations may have some variation, especially since the distribution is indicated as patchy, and these butterflies don’t travel very far.  It appears your individual is nectaring from lavender, which is an particular favorite flower for the Gossamer Winged Butterflies.  According to TrekNature:  “The violet copper is a widely distributed but very local butterfly, whose wetland habitat is increasingly under threat. A fresh male cannot really be mistaken for anything else, though I have known people mistake particularly bright sooty coppers for violet coppers. The female has different markings but both sexes share the row of white chevrons on the underside, making the species easily distinguishable at all times if the underside can be seen.”  Your individual has the white chevron markings, so we are relatively confident our identification is correct.

Violet Copper
Violet Copper

Dear Daniel,
Thank you very much for your very quick response and nice description and links,  I was really intrigued by this little butterfly because I had never seen one of them before.
thanks again and have a nice day
Best regards
Marco

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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