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Observations of the habitats of the Small Copper Butterfly

Posted: Mon Dec 10, 2007 8:20 pm
by Perseus

Small Copper Butterfly on the chalk downs above, Lancing, Shoreham &
Southwick, West Sussex. And in the levels of the lower Adur valley.

Small Copper
Lycaena phlaeas ... l%20Copper


The main foodplants are Common Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) and Sheep's Sorrel (Rumex acetosella). Broad-leaved Dock (Rumex obtusifolius) is also used.


This butterfly favours open land where nectar sources and foodplant are found. Such habitats include grassland, wasteland, heathland, old quarries, embankments, road verges and woodland rides.


Eggs are laid singly, usually on the underside of a leaf of the foodplant. The egg is white when first laid, gradually become grey before the larva emerges. This stage lasts approximately 6 days.


Reports of this butterfly are only occasional in the Adur valley and the surrounding downs. Fewer than 50 a year are recorded (cf. BAP species the Adonis Blue, 50 could be seen in 20 minutes).

Despite being small this butterfly is a strong flyer and can be found away from its food plants. The correlation is not always straightforward. The Small Copper is found on the yellow Fleabane more often than other plants. The Fleabane is found greatest numbers on the damper Adur Levels where there is alluvium over the chalk bedrock.

Common Sorrel ... php?id=114

According to the text this plant is ubiquitous and found just about anywhere.

However, my observations indicate the sorrels (including other Rumex) and found in greatest numbers in meadows and on the verges of paths and roads. Although, unlikely to be absent on pastures, the plants appear to be eaten by cattle and I do not notice this plant on pastures. It is not prevalent (if found at all) on the upper meadows of Mill Hill for some reason, although it will be found on the edge of the road.

Small Copper

This butterfly is most likely to be found on the Lancing Ring meadows and on uncultivated waste ground on the Adur Levels and on the verges of Downs Link Cyclepath, and on the A27 road embankment as it carves its way from the chalk of north Shoreham. Isolates are found almost anywhere and it is recorded from Mill Hill in most years. It is not recorded regularly on pastures, if any at all. It has also been found visiting Ragwort on the wide verges of the paths to Southwick Hill, which are not grazed. Immigrant Small Copper butterflies probably occur.


This butterfly favours wildlife meadows (but not managed hay meadows), but by observation, I would have thought that in horse pastures and conservation cattle pastures, occasional Small Copper Butterflies should occur, but the numbers locally are so low, that this has not been observed. Horse pastures contain lots of Dock and I would suspect that Sorrel survives as well. I am not sure if Horses eat this plant?

Another plant and butterfly that favours meadows over pastures. At least from limited observations in the chalk area near the lower Adur Valley.


Andy Horton
Adur Valley Nature Notes
Adur Valley Nature Notes: December 2007

Adur Valley & Downs Gallery

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Posted: Mon Dec 10, 2007 8:28 pm
by Perseus

Small Coppers were just a handful in 2007


Andy Horton
Adur Valley Nature Notes
Adur Valley Nature Notes: December 2007

Posted: Tue Dec 11, 2007 7:34 am
by JKT
I quite agree. Here as well, the species favors habitats with a portion of open ground - preferably rock or gravel, but sand and dry clay will do as well. The common factor is that those places are relatively hot during daytime.

Posted: Tue Dec 11, 2007 10:24 pm
by Paul
Near where I live there is a discrete colony of Small Coppers in a minor isolated moorland stream gully ~ 100 yds long. On successive years I have counted ~ 50 individuals patrolling the gully, with none on the surrounding moorland. It is certainly a sheltered and warm(ish) place with Sorrell++. The gully feeds a larger valley in which again I see none. I've not seen this distribution/ behaviour quoted elsewhere.... but it is a great place to get photos!!!