Butterflies of Europe
Family - LYCAENIDAE
subfamily - LYCAENINAE
© Peter Bruce-Jones
are over 70 species of Copper butterfly in the genus
Lycaena, the vast majority of which are
found in the Holarctic region ( North America, Europe and the part of
Asia north of the Himalayas ). There are also however at least 5
species in Africa including the Small Copper
Lycaena phlaeas, and several in the Oriental region.
Additionally there is a single species in Papua New Guinea, and no
less than 4 in New Zealand. Australia and South America each have the
great misfortune to have not even a single species of this exquisite
genus of butterflies.
species are small and of similar shape, and all but a tiny handful
have a shimmering fiery copper sheen on their uppersides. Some like
virgaureae are almost devoid of markings,
while others have irregular or linear bands of dark spots on the
forewings, and in some species also on the hindwings.
There are 12 species in Europe, of which
virgaureae is certainly not the scarcest,
despite its rather misleading common name, which refers to the fact
that the species has been dubiously recorded in Britain as a great
rarity - almost certainly due to it being confused with the similar
virgaureae is a quite common species, found in central Spain,
the Pyrenees, the Massif Central of France, and from the western
foothills of the Alps to Greece and Turkey. It also occurs across most
of temperate ( Holarctic ) Asia, reaching east as far as Mongolia.
© Peter Bruce-Jones
species is found in sheltered and dampish areas of flowery grassland
including sub-alpine hay meadows, boggy woodland clearings and alpine
pastures, at elevations between about 600-2000m.
usual larval foodplant is common sorrel Rumex
acetosa ( Polygonaceae ), although other
Rumex species are sometimes used.
The egg is off-white in colour, dome
shaped, and covered in a coarse network of deep hexagonal pits. It is
laid singly or in two's or three's on the stems or leaves of the
foodplant. Some eggs hatch within a few days of being laid, but others
overwinter with the fully developed larva within.
The caterpillar when fully grown is
green, woodlouse-shaped and slightly hairy. It feeds nocturnally.
The chrysalis is of the typical plump,
rounded, featureless Lycaenid shape, and pale green in colour,
dappled with black
spots on the abdomen, and with tiny black flecks on the wing cases.
The butterflies are very active in sunny
conditions, typically spending 2 or 3 minutes nectaring at a
particular clover, knapweed, scabious or daisy flower before darting
very quickly to another plant.
feeding they hold their wings either erect, or at a 45° angle.
Males perch on bushes or flowerheads to
await passing females, and aggressively attack any other males which
impinge onto their territory.
In late afternoon, or in hazy sunshine
they habitually sit near the top of grass stems or on the upper leaves
of herbaceous plants, basking with wings held half open, while
adopting the head-downward posture that is commonly used by Blues and
Just before dusk they tend to gather at
sheltered spots, roosting in one's and two's on dead flowerheads, on
which they rest facing head downward.