Large Copper

Lycaena dispar (ly-SEE-nuh DISS-par)

Large Copper - imago - Thatcham - 24-Jun-08 (25) {REARED}
Photo © Pete Eeles

Male: 44 - 48mm
Female: 46 - 52mm

Checklist Number

Family:LycaenidaeLeach, 1815
Subfamily:LycaeninaeLeach, 1815
Tribe:LycaeniniLeach, 1815
Genus:LycaenaFabricius, 1807
Species:dispar(Haworth, 1803)
Subspecies:dispar (Haworth, 1803)
 rutilus Werneburg, 1864
 batavus (Oberthür, 1923)

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The Large Copper was first discovered from Dozen's Bank near Spalding in Lincolnshire in 1749. It became extinct in the British Isles in 1851 and was last recorded at Bottisham in Cambridgeshire. There is no doubt that the demise of this most spectacular butterfly was the result of changing fenland management and, in particular, the draining of the fens. On the continent this species lives in discrete colonies ranging from a few dozen adults to many hundred.

There have been several introduction attempts, the first at Woodwalton Fen, in Huntingdonshire, in 1927. On several occasions, the population had to be subsequently re-introduced or supplemented from captive stock. The British subspecies, dispar, was endemic to the British Isles and reintroductions have tended to use stock from the Netherlands, which is of the rare subspecies batavus. Unfortunately, all reintroduction attempts have ultimately failed. A project is being undertaken at Keele University to determine the feasibility of a Large Copper re-establishment programme in the British Isles. This species is extinct in the British Isles. Although the species was never widespread, it is believed that its former range also included Lincolnshire, Huntingdonshire, Norfolk and Somerset.

Lycaena dispar ssp. disparHistoric Specimens

This species was first defined in Haworth (1803) as shown here (type locality: Cambridgeshire, England).

The nominate subspecies is extinct.


Large Copper [Richard Lewington]

Male Underside
Photo © Richard Lewington


Female Underside

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Lycaena dispar ssp. rutilusHistoric Specimens

This subspecies was first defined in Werneburg (1864) as shown here (type locality: Germany).

This subspecies was introduced in the British Isles although this was ultimately unsuccessful.

Large Copper - Lycaena dispar rutilus 3

Photo © Cristian Mihai

Large Copper - Lycaena dispar rutilus (male). SE Moravia (CZE) May 26th 2009

Male Underside
Photo © traplican

Large Copper female (ssp rutilus) - Switzerland 30-May-2015

Photo © Padfield

Large copper, ssp. rutilus, female, 18th June 2013, Switzerland

Female Underside
Photo © Padfield

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Lycaena dispar ssp. batavusHistoric Specimens

This subspecies was first defined in Oberthür (1923) (type locality: Netherlands).

This subspecies was introduced in the British Isles although this was ultimately unsuccessful. In describing this subspecies, Oberthür simply stated that the Dutch race should be given a name to indicate its origin. In order to distinguish it from the English race he gave it the name batavus (Batavia is a former name for Holland). According to Emmet (1990) this subspecies differs from the nominate subspecies as follows:

  • 1. On the hindwing underside, the white-ringed black spots are smaller, especially in the basal area.
  • 2. On the hindwing underside, the orange band is narrower and less squared at its apical extremity.
Large Copper - imago - Thatcham - 29-Aug-08 (2) {REARED}

Photo © Pete Eeles

Large Copper - imago - Thatcham - 24-Jun-08 (16) {REARED}

Male Underside
Photo © Pete Eeles

Large Copper - imago - Thatcham - 26-Jun-08 (1) {REARED}

Photo © Pete Eeles

Large Copper - imago - Thatcham - 25-Jun-08 (2) {REARED}

Female Underside
Photo © Pete Eeles

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Conservation Status

No conservation action is relevant for this species.


In the British Isles this species inhabited the East Anglian fens and probably other areas within southern England before becoming extinct.


1.1 Extinct

This species is extinct in the British Isles.

Life Cycle

This species has one generation each year in the British Isles with the adults emerging in July and flying into August.

Lycaena dispar ssp. batavus


This species only flies in sunshine and therefore relies on good weather to allow it to fly and, therefore, court, mate and lay eggs. The males set up loose territories and will intercept any creature that flies past. If a virgin female is encountered then the two will typically settle, and the male will flap his wings for a short time before mating takes place.

The scientific name of this species, dispar, refers to the disparity between the two sexes. The upperside of the male is generally of a uniform copper colour with little patterning, where as the upperside of the female not only has distinct markings on the forewings, but also has a very different markings on the hindwing which are more dark brown than copper in colour.

Description of nectar sources to be completed.

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The white eggs are laid singly on the foodplant, with several eggs sometimes being found together on the same leaf. These are typically on medium-sized plants that are away from water and mixed in with the surrounding vegetation. The eggs hatch in approximately 2 weeks.

Large Copper - ovum - Thatcham - 12-Jul-08 (2) {REARED}

Photo © Pete Eeles

Large Copper - ovum - Thatcham - 10-Sep-14 [REARED]-9

Photo © Pete Eeles

Large Copper - ovum - Thatcham - 17-Jul-12 (3) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles

Large Copper - ovum - Thatcham - 17-Jul-12 (1) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles

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The larva does not eat its eggshell on hatching and proceeds to feed on the underside of the leaf. As for its close relative, the Small Copper, the larva forms a small groove on the underside, leaving the upper surface of the leaf intact. The larva rests in this groove when not feeding. After the second moult, the larva creates holes in the leaf surface and moves to the midrib of the leaf prior to moulting. The larva also overwinters while in the stage of development, at the base of the foodplant, typically within leaf litter. It has been shown that the larva is not prone to flooding in the fens and can survive submerged for over 2 months. There are 3 moults in total, this stage lasting between 10 and 11 months.

The primary larval foodplant is Water Dock (Rumex hydrolapathum).

Large Copper - larva - Thatcham - 17-Jul-12 (1) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
Newly-emerged larva

Large Copper - larva - Thatcham - 22-Aug-08 (1) {REARED}

Photo © Pete Eeles

Large Copper - larva - Thatcham - 28-Aug-08 (1) {REARED}

Photo © Pete Eeles

Large Copper - larva - Thatcham - 14-May-09 (4) {REARED}

Photo © Pete Eeles

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The pupa is attached head-down to a stem of the foodplant, attached by a silken girdle and the cremaster. This stage lasts between 1 and 6 weeks, depending on temperature.

Large Copper - pupa - Thatcham - 20-Jun-09 (2) {REARED}

Photo © Pete Eeles

Large Copper - pupa - Thatcham - 20-Jun-09 (1) {REARED}

Photo © Pete Eeles

Large Copper - pupa - Thatcham - 11-Jun-08 (1) {REARED}

Photo © Pete Eeles

Large Copper - pupa - Thatcham - 11-Oct-04 (2) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles

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Description to be completed.

This section shows those aberrations for which there is a corresponding image. Click here to see the descriptions of other aberrations for this species.

Similar Species

No similar species found.


Watch Video

The following links provide additional information on this butterfly.


The species description provided here references the following publications:

Emmet (1990) Emmet, A.M. and Heath, J. (1990) The Moths and Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland.
Fabricius (1807) Fabricius, J.C. (1807) Magazin für Insektenkunde, herausgegeben von Karl Illiger.
Haworth (1803) Haworth, A.H. (1803) Lepidoptera Britannica.
Leach (1815) Leach (1815) In Brewster: The Edinburgh Encyclopaedia.
Oberthür (1923) Oberthür, C. (1923) Etudes de Lépidoptérologie comparée.
Werneburg (1864) Werneburg, A. (1864) Beiträge zur Schmetterlingskunde.