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Lycaena phlaeas

Heathland habitat for Lycaena phlaeas.Mousehold Heath, England

The small copper, American copper, or the common copper (Lycaena phlaeas) is a butterfly of the Lycaenids or gossamer-winged butterfly family. According to Guppy and Shepard (2001), its specific name phlaeas is said to be derived either from the Greek Phlego, "to burn up" or from the Latin Floreo, "to flourish".


The upperside forewings are a bright orange with a dark outside edge border and with eight or nine black spots. The hindwings are dark with an orange border. Some females also have a row of blue spots inside the orange border and are known as form caeruleopunctata. The undersides are patterned in a similar way but are paler. The black spots on the forewings are outlined in yellow and the dark colouring is replaced by a pale brownish, gray. The hindwings are the same brown/grey colour with small black dots and a narrow orange border. The caterpillars (larvae) are usually green, but some have a purple stripe down the middle of the back and along each side.


It is widespread and common across Europe, Asia, and North America, and also found in North Africa south through to Ethiopia.

It can be found almost anywhere in south/central England and Wales although never, it seems, in large numbers. Its distribution becomes more patchy in northern England, Scotland and Ireland.


It is found in a wide variety range of habitats from chalk downlands, heathland, woodland clearings to churchyards and waste ground in cities.


In bright sun it is a very active little butterfly with the males setting up small territories which they will defend vigorously against rival males or indeed any unlucky passing insect. Even the shadow of a large bird passing overhead is enough to elicit a response. Females are pursued and mating usually occurs in vegetation.

Life cycle[edit]

The eggs are laid singly and conspicuously on the upperside of foodplant leaves and the young caterpillar feeds on the underside of the leaf creating "windows" by leaving the upper epidermis of the leaf untouched. Pupation takes place in the leaf litter and the pupa is thought to be tended by ants. There are between two and three broods a year, fewer further north. In exceptionally good years, a fourth brood sometimes occurs in the south and adults can still be seen flying into November. The species overwinters as a caterpillar.


Depending on the habitat, common sorrel (Rumex acetosa) and sheep's sorrel (Rumex acetosella) are the two main food-plants, although other docks (Rumex spp.) are occasionally used.


Lycaena phlaeas belongs to the subgenus Thersamolycaena of the genus Lycaena. The species is in turn divided into several subspecies:

  • Lycaena phlaeas hibernica Goodson, 1948Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland
  • Lycaena phlaeas eleus Fabricius, 1798 — England, Wales, Scotland
  • Lycaena phlaeas phlaeas Linnaeus, 1761 — Europe, western Siberia, Caucasus, South Caucasus (type locality = Sweden)
  • Lycaena phlaeas polaris Courvoisier, 1911 — northern Ural Mountains, northern Siberia, Chukotka Peninsula (Russia)
  • Lycaena phlaeas kamtschatica Gorbunov, 1994Kamchatka Peninsula (Russia)
  • Lycaena phlaeas ganalica Gorbunov, 1995 — Kamchatka Peninsula (Russia)
  • Lycaena phlaeas daimio (Seitz, [1909]) — south Kurile Islands, Sakhalin (Russian islands)
  • Lycaena phlaeas hypophlaeas (Boisduval, 1852)Altai Mountains, southern Siberia, Amur (Russia–NW China border region), northern Ussuri (adjacent to Amur)
  • Lycaena phlaeas chinensis (Felder, 1862) — southern Ussuri
  • Lycaena phlaeas oxiana (Grum-Grshimailo, 1890)Kopet Dag mountains, Alai Mountains, Ghissar-Darvaz, Tian Shan mountains
  • Lycaena phlaeas comedarum (Grum-Grshimailo, 1890) — eastern Pamir Mountains
  • Lycaena phlaeas stygiana Butler, 1880 — western Pamir Mountains
  • Lycaena phlaeas shima Gabriel, 1954Arabia
  • Lycanea phlaeas pseudophlaeas (Lucas, 1866)Ethiopia, Uganda
  • Lycaena phlaeas ethiopica (Poulton, 1922)Ruwenzori Mountains (SW Uganda)
  • Lycaena phlaeas abbottii (Holland, 1892)Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi
  • Lycaena phlaeas flavens (Ford, 1924) — Tibet
  • Lycaena phlaeas coccinea (Ford, 1924)
  • Lycaena phlaeas americana
  • Lycaena phlaeas arethusa (Dod, 1907) — Alberta
  • Lycaena phlaeas arctodon Ferris, 1974 — Montana
  • Lycaena phlaeas feildeni (McLachlan, 1878) — Ellesmere
  • Lycaena phlaeas alpestris Emmel & Pratt, 1998 — California

See also[edit]


  • Asher, Jim, Martin Warren, Richard Fox, Paul Harding, Gaile Jeffcoate & Stephen Jeffcoate (Eds) (2001) The Millennium Atlas of Butterflies in Britain and Ireland. Oxford University Press.
  • Darby, Gene (1958). What is a Butterfly. Chicago: Benefic Press. p. 34. 
  • Dempster, J.P. & A.M. Emmet (1990) LYCAENA PHLAEAS (Linnaeus). Pp. 134–139 in A. Maitland Emmet, John Heath et al. The Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland. The Moths and Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland vol. 7, part 1. Harley Books, Colchester, UK.
  • Evans, W.H. (1932) The Identification of Indian Butterflies (2nd Edn). Bombay Natural History Society, Mumbai, India.
  • Gaonkar, Harish (1996) Butterflies of the Western Ghats, India (including Sri Lanka) - A Biodiversity Assessment of a threatened mountain system. Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society.
  • Gay, Thomas, Isaac Kehimkar & J.C. Punetha (1992) Common Butterflies of India. WWF-India and Oxford University Press, Mumbai, India.
  • Guppy, C.S. and Shepard, J. (2001) Butterflies of British Columbia British Columbia Museum, Canada.
  • Haribal, Meena (1994) Butterflies of Sikkim Himalaya and their Natural History.
  • Kunte, Krushnamegh (2005) Butterflies of Peninsular India. Universities Press.
  • Tomlinson, David & Rob Still (2002) Britain's Butterflies. WildGuides, Old Basing, UK.
  • Wynter-Blyth, M.A. (1957) Butterflies of the Indian Region. Bombay Natural History Society, Mumbai, India.


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