Small Copper

Lycaena phlaeas (ly-SEE-nuh FLEE-uss)

Small Copper male -  Kynance Cove, Cornwall 5-Sept-2014
Photo © Neil Hulme
 

Wingspan
26 - 36mm

Checklist Number
61.001

Family:LycaenidaeLeach, 1815
Subfamily:LycaeninaeLeach, 1815
Tribe:LycaeniniLeach, 1815
Genus:LycaenaFabricius, 1807
Subgenus:  
Species:phlaeas(Linnaeus, 1761)
Subspecies:eleus (Fabricius, 1798)
 hibernica Goodson, 1948

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Introduction

The Small Copper is a fast flying butterfly that, once settled, is unmistakable with its bright copper-coloured forewings. It is a widespread species and a familiar and welcome sight for many naturalists throughout the summer months. This butterfly occurs in discrete colonies throughout the British Isles, but is absent from mountainous areas and far north-west Scotland, the Outer Hebrides and Shetland. Most colonies are fairly small, with just a few adults being seen on the wing at any one time.

Lycaena phlaeas ssp. phlaeas

The species was first defined in Linnaeus (1761) as shown here (type locality: Sweden). The nominate subspecies has not been recorded in the British Isles.

Lycaena phlaeas ssp. eleus

This subspecies was first defined in Fabricius (1798) as shown here (type locality: Germany).

This subspecies is found throughout the British Isles, with the exception of Ireland.

Lycaena phlaeas ssp. eleus (Fabricius, 1798)

Original (Latin)

alis emarginatis fuscis: anticis utrinque disco fuluo nigro punctato, posticis fasciola fulua, subtus cinereis nigro punctatis.

Habitat in Germania.

Affinis certe H. Helle at omnino distincta. Antennae fuscae, albo annulatae, claua oblonga nigra, apice ferruginea. Alae anticae fuscae disco fuluo, nitido punctis maioribus nigris, subtus cinereae disco fuluo punctis subocellaribus atris. Posticae valde emarginatae et fere bicaudatae, fuscae, nitidae fascia abbreuiata dentata, fulua, subtus cinereae punctis minutis nigris strigaque postica obsoleta, fulua.

Translation

Wings brown, notched; the forewings in the discal region reddish yellow on both sides, with black spots, the hindwings with a reddish yellow band, grey beneath, with black spots.

Lives in Germany.

Doubtless related to H. helle but quite distinct. Antennae brown, ringed white, with a black, oblong club, tip rust-coloured. Forewings dark brown with a bright reddish yellow discal region with large black spots, grey beneath with a reddish orange discal region with (small?) black eyespots. Hindwings greatly notched and generally twin-tailed, dark brown, with a bright band with short teeth, reddish yellow, grey beneath with minute black spots and a faint reddish yellow outer band.

Small Copper - Shadowbrook Meadows Solihull 21.05.2014

Male
Photo © Neil Freeman

Small Copper - Stockbridge Down - 24 July 2010

Male Underside
Photo © Clive

Small Copper - imago - Stockbridge Down - 06-Aug-09 (1)

Female
Photo © Pete Eeles

Small Copper - Alners Gorse - 22-08-2013

Female Underside
Photo © Wurzel

Photo Album ...


Lycaena phlaeas ssp. hibernica

This subspecies was first defined in Goodson (1948) (type locality: County Kerry, Ireland).

This subspecies is found throughout Ireland and Goodson's analysis was based on 45 specimens from Co. Kerry, 258 from Co. Cork, 18 from Co. Kildare, 10 from Co. Dublin, 10 from Co. Galway, 1 from Belfast and approximately 160 from England. Based on a small number of specimens, Riley (2007) suggests that the subspecies may be found on the Isle of Man, but acknowledges that "study of a larger sample is required for confirmation".

This subspecies differs from ssp. eleus as follows:

  • 1. On the upperside of the hindwings the copper band is generally broader.
  • 2. On the underside the ground colour is generally greyer than the brown of eleus.
  • 3. On the underside of the hindwings the red marginal band is brighter and more conspicuous.

Lycaena phlaeas ssp. hibernica (Goodson, 1948)

♂ ♀. Upperside. Differs in the broader copper band of the hind wings, which, however, varies to a certain extent, some specimens being comparatively narrow. This is also so in

English specimens, but it is safe to say that the narrowest English specimens are narrower than the narrowest Irish, whilst the broadest Irish are broader than any English.

Underside. The main difference is found here. Ground-colour invariably greyer than English examples, which, by comparison, are of various shades of brown. The red marginal band of the hind wings much more conspicuous and of a brighter hue, always distinct, even brilliant in Irish specimens, whilst in English ones usually narrow, rather dull or obscure. A series of undersides, Irish and English, shows a marked difference in this respect, enhanced by the grey ground of the Irish examples.

♂. Holotype. Co.Kerry, May 23 - June 17, 1920. L.A.E.Sabine (Rothschild collection).

♀. Allotype. Co.Kerry, May 23 - June 17, 1920. L.A.E.Sabine (Rothschild collection).

♂. Paratypes. Co.Kildare, August 11, 1947; Co.Cork, August, 1931; Co.Cork, September, 1931; roundstone, Co.Galway, August 20, 1947. Dudley Westropp.

♀. Paratypes. Co.Kerry, August 24 - September 7, 1920. L.A.E.Sabine (Rothschild collection). Co,Cork, August, 1927. Dudley Westropp.

Small Copper - male - The Raven, Co. Wexford, Ireland - 12-Aug-13-5

Male
Photo © Pete Eeles

Small Copper - male - The Raven, Co. Wexford, Ireland - 12-Aug-13

Male Underside
Photo © Pete Eeles

Small Copper - female - The Raven, Co. Wexford, Ireland - 12-Aug-13-8

Female
Photo © Pete Eeles

Small Copper - female - The Raven, Co. Wexford, Ireland - 12-Aug-13-6

Female Underside
Photo © Pete Eeles

Photo Album ...


Conservation Status

Despite a long-term decline in distribution, this is still a widespread butterfly and is not currently a priority species for conservation efforts.

UK BAP StatusDistribution Trend (%)Population Trend (%)
Not Listed
Stable-9
Decrease-28

The table above shows the distribution and population trends of species regularly found in the British Isles. The distribution trend represents a comparison between data for the periods 1995-1999 and 2005-2009. The information provided is taken from the Butterfly Conservation report The State of the UK's Butterflies 2011. The UK BAP status is taken from the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP) (2007 review).

Habitat

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.

Distribution

 

Click here to see the distribution of this species or here to see the distribution of this species together with specific site information overlaid.

Life Cycle

There are typically 2 or 3 generations each year, depending on the weather, with 4 generations in extremely good years. The first adults emerge in May, occasionally at the end of April, with the last adults being seen around the middle of October, depending on location.

Lycaena phlaeas ssp. eleus

Lycaena phlaeas ssp. hibernica

The chart(s) above have been correlated with the phenology plot below, taken from the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme. The blue line gives average counts over the full data set from 1976 to date, and the red line gives the average for the last year.

Imago

This sun-loving butterfly is often found resting on the ground, vegetation or flowers, as it absorbs the sun's rays. Males establish small territories and fly up to intercept any passing insect in the hope of intercepting a passing female. When egg-laying, females are easy to distinguish from males, as they fly low across the ground searching for suitable foodplants on which to lay. Both sexes roost head down on grass stems.

Adults feed primarily on Fleabane (Pulicaria dysenterica). Buttercups (Ranunculus spp.), Daisy (Bellis perennis), Dandelion (Taraxacum agg.), Hawkweeds (Hieracium/Hypochoeris), Heather (Calluna vulgaris / Erica spp.), Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea), Red Clover (Trifolium pratense), Thistles (Cirsium spp. and Carduus spp.) and Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) are also used.

Lycaena phlaeas ssp. eleus

Small Copper - imago - Stockbridge Down - 24-Jul-12-2

Photo © Pete Eeles

Newly emerged SC with original egg, 07/10/2015, Liphook, reared

Photo © Pauline
07-Oct-2015

Small Copper Female - Kenley, Surrey 25-July-10

Photo © Vince Massimo
25-Jul-2010

Small Copper Male - Kenley, Surrey 20-July-10

Photo © Vince Massimo
20-Jul-2010

Small Copper - Martin Down - 10th August 2012

Photo © Wurzel

Small Copper - imago - Ballard Down - 21-Jul-06 (0501)

Photo © Pete Eeles
21-Jul-2006

Small Copper - Kent 24-Sept-2013

Photo © Hoggers
24-Sep-2013

Small Copper (1st brood) Woodwalton Fen, 10th May 2009

Photo © NickB
10-May-2009

Small Copper - imago - Stockbridge Down - 22-Sep-10 (1)

Photo © Pete Eeles
22-Sep-2010

Small Copper - Larkhill - 15-09-2014

Photo © Wurzel

Small Copper - male - Stockbridge Down - 06-Aug-13

Photo © Pete Eeles
06-Aug-2013

Small Copper pair -  Dungeness, Kent 19-June-2016

Photo © Hoggers
19-Jun-2016

Small Copper pair - Sussex 31-Aug-2010

Photo © Neil Hulme
31-Aug-2010

Small Copper - Cei Bach - Ceredigion - 06-08-2013

Photo © Wurzel

Small Copper (with elongated tails) - Bournmouth 30-July-2013

Photo © Mikhail

Small Copper - imago - Stockbridge Down - 20-Jul-10 (2)

Photo © Pete Eeles
20-Jul-2010

Small Copper -  Dungeness, Kent 27-June-2016

Photo © Hoggers
27-Jun-2016

Small Copper - Cissbury Ring, Sussex 15-Oct-2013

Photo © Neil Hulme
15-Oct-2013

Small Copper - imago - Watlington Hill - 28-Jul-10 (1)

Photo © Pete Eeles
28-Jul-2010

Small Copper - The Devenish - 25-08-2013

Photo © Wurzel

Photo Album ...


Lycaena phlaeas ssp. hibernica

Small Copper - imago - Boston, Clare - Unknown date [Adrian Riley]

Photo © Adrian Riley

Small Copper - imago - Newtownards, Co Down, Northern Ireland - Unknown date (2) [Dave McCormick]

Photo © Dave McCormick

Small Copper - female - Dunquin, Co. Kerry, Ireland - 11-Aug-13

Photo © Pete Eeles
11-Aug-2013

Small Copper - female - The Raven, Co. Wexford, Ireland - 12-Aug-13

Photo © Pete Eeles
12-Aug-2013

Small Copper - female - The Raven, Co. Wexford, Ireland - 12-Aug-13-5

Photo © Pete Eeles
12-Aug-2013

Small Copper - female - The Raven, Co. Wexford, Ireland - 12-Aug-13-6

Photo © Pete Eeles
12-Aug-2013

Small Copper - female - The Raven, Co. Wexford, Ireland - 12-Aug-13-7

Photo © Pete Eeles
12-Aug-2013

Small Copper - female - The Raven, Co. Wexford, Ireland - 12-Aug-13-8

Photo © Pete Eeles
12-Aug-2013

Small Copper - male - Boston, Clare - 10-Aug-13

Photo © Pete Eeles
10-Aug-2013

Small Copper - male - Boston, Clare - 10-Aug-13-3

Photo © Pete Eeles
10-Aug-2013

Small Copper - male - Boston, Clare - 10-Aug-13-4

Photo © Pete Eeles
10-Aug-2013

Small Copper - male - The Raven, Co. Wexford, Ireland - 12-Aug-13

Photo © Pete Eeles
12-Aug-2013

Small Copper - male - The Raven, Co. Wexford, Ireland - 12-Aug-13-4

Photo © Pete Eeles
12-Aug-2013

Small Copper - male - The Raven, Co. Wexford, Ireland - 12-Aug-13-5

Photo © Pete Eeles
12-Aug-2013

Small Copper - male - The Raven, Co. Wexford, Ireland - 12-Aug-13-6

Photo © Pete Eeles
12-Aug-2013

Small Copper - female - Ballyteigue Burrow Nature Reserve, County Wexford, Ireland - 20-Aug-13

Photo © Pete Eeles
20-Aug-2013

Small Copper - female - Ballyteigue Burrow Nature Reserve, County Wexford, Ireland - 20-Aug-13-2

Photo © Pete Eeles
20-Aug-2013

Photo Album ...


Ovum

Eggs are laid singly, usually on the underside of a leaf of the foodplant, those growing in full sunshine being preferred. The egg is white when first laid, gradually become grey before the larva emerges. Eggs hatch in 1 or 2 weeks.

Small Copper ovum - Chaldon, Surrey 25-Sept-09

Photo © Vince Massimo
25-Sep-2009

Small Copper - ovum - Stockbridge Down - Unknown Date (2) [Tim Norriss]

Photo © Tim Norriss

Small Copper - ovum - Stockbridge Down - Unknown Date [Tim Norriss]

Photo © Tim Norriss

Small Copper egg - East Lothian, Scotland 25-Aug-2011

Photo © NickMorgan

Small Copper egg

Photo © Tony Moore
04-Sep-2013

Small Copper - ovum - Calstone and Cherhill Downs - 29-Aug-13

Photo © Pete Eeles
29-Aug-2013

Small Copper ovum

Photo © Tony Moore
10-Sep-2013

Small Copper Ovum, Oxenbourne Down, 15/07/2014

Photo © Pauline
15-Jul-2014

Small Copper Ovum, Oxenbourne Down, 15/07/2014

Photo © Pauline
15-Jul-2014

Small Copper Ova - Somerset - 28/09/14

Photo © William
28-Sep-2014

Small Copper Ova - Somerset - 28/09/14

Photo © William
28-Sep-2014

Small Copper ovum, Noar Hill, 18/08/2015

Photo © Pauline
18-Aug-2015

Small Copper ova, Noar Hill, 18/08/2015

Photo © Pauline
18-Aug-2015

Small Copper egg laid on stone - Newhaven Tide Mills, Sussex 3-Oct-2015

Photo © bugboy
03-Oct-2015

Small Copper egg laid on stone - Newhaven Tide Mills, Sussex 3-Oct-2015

Photo © bugboy
03-Oct-2015

Small Copper - ovum - Greenham Common - 19-May-16-2

Photo © Pete Eeles
19-May-2016

Small Copper - ovum - Greenham Common - 19-May-16

Photo © Pete Eeles
19-May-2016

Photo Album ...


Larva

The larva does not eat the eggshell on emerging, but starts to feed on the underside of the leaf. As it feeds it forms characteristic grooves, in which it also rests, leaving the upper surface of the leaf intact. Each groove appears as a transparent area of the leaf when seen from above and can give the presence of a larva away to the trained eye.

Those larvae that overwinter do so in one of the first 3 instars, attached to a pad of silk on the foodplant, such as on leaf or leaf stem. There are 4, sometimes 5, instars.

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

Small Copper Larva - Somerset - 04/04/15

Photo © William
04-Apr-2015

Small Copper larva - East Lothian, Scotland 20-Nov-2011

Photo © NickMorgan

Small Copper larva - getting bigger

Photo © Tony Moore
01-Oct-2013

Small Copper larva, 18 days old, Liphook, 24/07/2014, reared

Photo © Pauline
11-Aug-2014

Small Copper - larva - Stockbridge Down - Jun-99 [Tim Norriss]

Photo © Tim Norriss

Small Copper larva, 13 days old, Liphook, 24/07/2014, reared

Photo © Pauline
06-Aug-2014

Small Copper - larva - Stockbridge Down - Jun-99 (4) [Tim Norriss]

Photo © Tim Norriss

Small Copper larva emerging, Liphook, 24/07/2014, reared

Photo © Pauline
24-Jul-2014

Small Copper larva, 07/09/2015, Liphook, reared

Photo © Pauline
07-Sep-2015

Small Copper larva - East Lothian, Scotland 26-March-2012

Photo © NickMorgan

Small Copper larva emerging, Liphook, 24/07/2014, reared

Photo © Pauline
24-Jul-2014

Small Copper Larva with silken hibernation pad - Somerset - 07/03/15

Photo © William
07-Mar-2015

Small Copper larva emerging, Liphook, 24/07/2014, reared

Photo © Pauline
24-Jul-2014

Small Copper larva, just emerged, Liphook, 24/07/2014, reared

Photo © Pauline
24-Jul-2014

Small Copper larva, 11 days old, Liphook, 24/07/2014, reared

Photo © Pauline
04-Aug-2014

Small Copper larva, 4 days old, Liphook, 24/07/2014, reared

Photo © Pauline
28-Jul-2014

Small Copper larva emerging, Liphook, 24/07/2014, reared

Photo © Pauline
24-Jul-2014

Small Copper Larva and Hatched Ovum - Somerset - 18/10/14

Photo © William
18-Oct-2014

Small Copper larva - Formby Point-16Jun2016

Photo © MikeOxon

Small Copper larva, 18 days old, Liphook, 24/07/2014, reared

Photo © Pauline
11-Aug-2014

Photo Album ...


Pupa

The larva leaves its foodplant to pupate low down in the vegetation, such as on a dead leaf. The pupa is attached by a silk girdle and the cremaster. This stage lasts around 3 or 4 weeks.

Small Copper - pupa - Thatcham - 13-Apr-07 (1) {REARED}

Photo © Pete Eeles
13-Apr-2007

Small Copper - pupa - Stockbridge Down - 14-Jul-99 [REARED] [Tim Norriss]

Photo © Tim Norriss

Small Copper Pupa - 2 Days Before Emergence - Somerset - 21/05/15

Photo © William
21-May-2015

Small Copper Pupa - Somerset - 19/04/15

Photo © William
19-Apr-2015

Small Copper Pupa - Somerset - 19/04/15

Photo © William
19-Apr-2015

Small Copper pupa, 26/09/2015, Liphook, reared

Photo © Pauline
26-Sep-2015

Small Copper pupa, 05/10/2015, Liphook, reared

Photo © Pauline
05-Oct-2015

Small Copper pupa, 07/10/2015, Liphook, reared

Photo © Pauline
07-Oct-2015

Small Copper pupa, 07/10/2015, Liphook, reared

Photo © Pauline
07-Oct-2015

Small Copper emerging from pupa, 07/10/2015, Liphook, reared

Photo © Pauline
07-Oct-2015

Photo Album ...


Aberrations

Aberration is fairly frequently met with in this species and even quite small colonies can produce interesting forms year after year. It is always worth having a close look at any Small Copper that you see in the field.

Upperside ground colour can vary from pure silver-white through oranges and fiery reds, to deeply suffused specimens that appear almost entirely black. The amount of copper on the hindwing band can be greatly exaggerated or reduced to the point of absence. The number, size, and shape of the black forewing spots can also vary considerably on both the upperside and underside; and even the tails on the hind wings can be markedly exaggerated in length. Heavy suffusion on the upperside is probably environmentally triggered and can sometimes be met with relative frequency in the autumn generation following a particularly hot summer.

Rarely (as in other species) more than one genetically inherited aberration can be expressed in the same specimen. This becomes particularly impressive where, for example, the silver-white ab. schmidtii also expresses the blue markings on the hindwings known as ab. caeruleopunctata and the reduced forewing markings of ab. bipunctata. Such multiple aberrations are almost unknown in the wild but have been produced in captivity by selective pairing of aberrant imagines through successive generations. There are 140 named aberrations known to occur in Britain.

Click here to see the aberration descriptions and images for this species.

Similar Species

No similar species found.

Videos


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References

The species description provided here references the following publications:

ReferenceDetails
Fabricius (1798) Fabricius, J.C. (1798) Supplementum Entomologiae Systematicae.
Fabricius (1807) Fabricius, J.C. (1807) Magazin für Insektenkunde, herausgegeben von Karl Illiger.
Goodson (1948) Goodson, A.L. (1948) New varieties of Argynnis cydippe L. and Lycaena phlaeus L.. The Entomologist.
Leach (1815) Leach (1815) In Brewster: The Edinburgh Encyclopaedia.
Linnaeus (1761) Linnaeus, C. (1761) Fauna Suecica Sistens Animalia Sueciae Regni. Edition 2.
Riley (2007) Riley, A.M. (2007) British and Irish Butterflies: The Complete Identification, Field and Site Guide to the Species, Subspecies and Forms.