Lycaena phlaeas

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Small copper
Small copper (Lycaena phlaeas eleus) 2.jpg
L. p. eleus
Aston Upthorpe, Oxfordshire
Lycaena phlaeas LC0308.jpg
Not evaluated (IUCN 3.1)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Family: Lycaenidae
Genus: Lycaena
Species: L. phlaeas
Binomial name
Lycaena phlaeas
(L., 1761)
  • Papilio phlaeas Linnaeus, 1761
  • Papilio timeus Cramer, [1777]
  • Papilio virgaureae Scopoli, 1763
  • Lycaena phlaeas aestivus Zeller, 1847
  • Polyommatus turcicus Gerhard, 1853
  • Heodes hyperborea Ford, 1924
  • Chrysophanus phloeas feildeni McLachlan, 1878
  • Heodes phlaeas coccineus Ford, 1924
  • Heodes phlaeas flavens Ford, 1924
  • Heodes ethiopica Poulton, 1922
  • Lycaena phlaeas f. polaris Courvoisier, 1911
  • Lycaena phlaeus chinensis ab. kurilensis Matsumura, 1928
  • Heodes kuriliphlaeas Bryk, 1942
  • Chrysophanus arethusa Dod, 1907
  • Chrysophanus abbottii Holland, 1892
  • Chrysophanus abbottii Holland, 1896
  • Polyommatus phlaeas var. comedarum Grum-Grshimailo, 1890
  • Polyommatus phlaeas var. oxiana Grum-Grshimailo, 1890
  • Polyommatus turanica Rühl, 1895
  • Lycaena phlaeas f. naruena Courvoisier, 1911
  • Heodes coccineus Ford, 1924
  • Chrysophanus pseudophlaeas Lucas, 1866
  • Chrysophanus phlaeas var. menelicki Thierry-Mieg, 1910
  • Heodes matsumuranus Bryk, 1946
  • Polyommatus hypophlaeas Boisduval, 1852
  • Lycaena americana Harris, 1862
  • Chrysophanus phlaeas var. americana ab. fasciata Strecker, 1878
  • Chrysophanus americanus ab. fulliolus Hulst, 1886
  • Lycaena bacchus Scudder, 1889
  • Heodes hypophlaeas ab. obliterata Scudder, 1889
  • Chrysophanus phlaeas adrienne Maynard, 1891
  • Heodes hypophlaeas f. caeca Reiff, 1913
  • Chrysophanus hypohplaeas ab. octomaculata Dean, 1918
  • Heodes hypophlaeas hypophlaeas ab. banksi Watson & Comstock, 1920
  • Heodes hypophlaeas ab. fulvus Rummel, 1929
  • Heodes hypophlaeas ab. neui Rummel, 1929
  • Hesperia eleus Fabricius, 1798
  • Lycaena phlaeas f. caerulopunctata Rühl, 1895
  • Chrysophanus phlaeas ab. oberthuri Blachier, 1908
  • Lycaena shima Gabriel, 1954

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 food plant 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.

Host plants[edit]

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 ed.). Mumbai, India: Bombay Natural History Society. 
  • Gaonkar, Harish (1996). Butterflies of the Western Ghats, India (including Sri Lanka) - A Biodiversity Assessment of a Threatened Mountain System. Bangalore, India: Centre for Ecological Sciences. 
  • Gay, Thomas; Kehimkar, Isaac David; Punetha, Jagdish Chandra (1992). Common Butterflies of India. Nature Guides. Bombay, India: World Wide Fund for Nature-India by Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195631647. 
  • Guppy, C.S. and Shepard, J. (2001) Butterflies of British Columbia British Columbia Museum, Canada.
  • Haribal, Meena (1992). The Butterflies of Sikkim Himalaya and Their Natural History. Gangtok, Sikkim, India: Sikkim Nature Conservation Foundation. 
  • Kunte, Krushnamegh (2000). Butterflies of Peninsular India. India, A Lifescape. Hyderabad, India: Universities Press. ISBN 978-8173713545. 
  • Tomlinson, David & Rob Still (2002) Britain's Butterflies. WildGuides, Old Basing, UK.
  • Wynter-Blyth, Mark Alexander (1957). Butterflies of the Indian Region. Bombay, India: Bombay Natural History Society. ISBN 978-8170192329. 

External links[edit]