Small Copper

The fast-flying Small Copper is on the wing into autumn; watch out on warmer days for its coppery colours.
Photo: Ray Surridge

Scientific name: Lycaena phlaeas

Cornish name: ‘Tikki-dui’ is the general word for butterfly

The bright copper brown-spotted forewings of this small butterfly, flying throughout the summer from April to October (mid-November in Cornwall), make it instantly recognisable. Its hindwings also have a copper margin. Males and females are very similar, though the latter can be distinguished by a rounder wing shape.

Small Coppers can be spotted in a variety of open but sheltered habitats in warm and dry weather, including heathland and meadows, woodland edges and waste ground, and even occasionally in gardens. Individuals are often observed basking in the sunshine: males are highly territorial and will chase off ‘rival’ insects before returning to their basking perch.

Although not considered a conservation priority, Small Copper numbers have declined by 16% since the 1970s (source: Butterfly Conservation), a trend that mirrors the general decline in butterfly numbers in Great Britain. Populations do fluctuate with the weather in any given year. The species has a wide distribution across the country, generally forming discrete small colonies, though it is not found at higher elevations.

Small Coppers usually produce up to three broods, sometimes four in good years, with fresh insects emerging until October or November and the first frosts. The main larval foodplants are Common Sorrel, Sheep’s Sorrel and, more occasionally, Broad-leaved Dock. The last caterpillars to emerge overwinter low down on the plant stem on a silk bed. Adults nectar on several plants, including Common Fleabane, Buttercups and Yarrow.

Did you know…?

…There are three subspecies of Small Copper. Lycaena phlaeas eleus is the one found on mainland Britain, replaced by L. phlaeas hibernica in Ireland. The type-subspecies L. phlaeas phlaeas is not found in Britain.

…The warmer climate of Cornwall gives this species a longer flight period (up to mid-November), and means that four broods per year are not uncommon, with even a fifth in years when conditions are particularly favourable.

More information and references:

Chinery, M., 2005. Collins Complete Guide to British Insects. HarperCollins, London.

Mansell, E. and Newman, L.H., 1968. The Complete British Butterflies in Colour. Ebury Press and Michael Joseph, London.

Wacher, J., Worth, J. and Spalding, A., 2003. A Cornwall Butterfly Atlas. Pisces Publications, Newbury, Berkshire.

Whalley, P. and Lewington, R., 2009. The Pocket Guide to Butterflies. Bounty Books, London.

Published: October 2013
Author: Amanda Scott
Photos and video: Ray Surridge