Lycaena phlaeas

Geographic Range

The distribution of Lycaena phlaeas is Holarctic, covering northern and central North America, Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa. L. p. americana is found from Ontario to Kansas eastward; L. p. arethusa occupies the northwest but most likely is not found in central Alaska; L. p. polaris inhabits the west Arctic and Scandanavia; and L. p. phlaeas is found in Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa. Some authors believe L. p. americana may have been introduced to North America from Scandanavia in colonial times. (Holland, 1931; Maynard, 1891; Opler and Krizek, 1984; Scott, 1986)


American coppers can be found in most disturbed areas including fields, sandy prairies, powerlines, waste places and rocky places in the Rockies, and alpine fell-fields in the Sierra Mountains and arctic tundra. (Glassberg, 1999; Scott, 1986; Shapiro, 1966)

Physical Description

Adult American coppers are one of the smallest coppers, with the average wing length 1.3 cm in males (range 1.2-1.4 cm) and 1.5 cm in females (range 1.3-1.6 cm). They have orange forewings with black spots and a dark outer wing margin, and a grayish upper hindwing with and orange border with a row of black spots. The undersurface of the forewing is pale orange with black spots, and the hindwing a powder white with black spots and orange band. (Opler and Krizek, 1984)

The red larvae are slug-like in appearance, and can range in color from red to light green or yellow green. They are covered with short hairs. (Opler and Krizek, 1984; Scott, 1986; Weed, 1926)

The eggs are greenish white, ribbed, and turn completely white as they age. (Scott, 1986)

Pupae of American Coppers are light brown with many dark colored dots. (Scott, 1986)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Range wingspan
    2.4 to 3.2 cm
    0.94 to 1.26 in
  • Average wingspan
    2.6 cm
    1.02 in


After the egg hatches, American copper larvae will mature in three weeks. Pupation occurs under shelter such as stones, logs, or boards. According to some authors, American coppers overwinter as a chrysalis, however Scott (1986) reports that half-grown larvae hibernate, with the diapause triggered by short photoperiod and low temperatures. Adults emerge in the springtime. (Maynard, 1891; Opler and Krizek, 1984; Scott, 1986; Weed, 1926)


Male American coppers perch on the tops of leaves and flowers in low spots, awaiting females to pass by. Alpine males will perch in nooks at the base of rocky slopes. The males differentiate the females by their wing pattern. (Scott, 1986)

These butterflies mate between early spring and fall. American coppers produce a single brood in the northern parts of their range, and may have up to three broods of eggs in the south.

  • Breeding interval
    American coppers are single brooded in the northern parts of their range, and may have up to three broods in the south.
  • Breeding season
    Flights begin in early spring and continue into fall.

Butteflies do not exhibit parental care.

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement


In Japan, American coppers lived up to 14 days in the wild. If they overwinter, they can live almost a year. (Scott, 1986)

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    1 (high) years


American coppers are active from early morning until dusk. They frequently sun themselves, resting on tall flowers such as daisies, yarrow (Achillea millifolium), and Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota). (Shapiro, 1966; Weed, 1926)

Communication and Perception

American coppers communicate visually, and use touch during courtship. (Scott, 1986)

Food Habits

American copper larvae are known to feed on docks (Rumex) including sheep sorrel (R. acetosella), curly dock (R. crispus), Oxyria digyna, and in Europe Polygonum, associated with R. alpestris. (Glassberg, 1999; Scott, 1986)

Adults eat the nectar of may species, including common buttercup (Ranunculus acris), clovers (Trifolium spp.), yarrow (Achillea millifolium), oxeye daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum), butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa), alfalfa (Medicago sativa), blazing star (Liatris spicata), dwarf cinquefoil (Potentilla canadensis), wild strawberry (Frageria virginiana), and mountain mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum). (Iftner, et al., 1992; Opler and Krizek, 1984)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • nectar


Predators of all life stages of butterflies include a variety of insect parasatoids. These wasps or flies will consume the body fluids first, and then eat the internal organs, ultimately killing the butterfly. Those wasps that lay eggs inside the host body include Ichneumonidae, Braconidae, Pteromalidae, Chalcidoidea, Encyrtidae, Eulophidae, Scelionidae, Trichogrammatidae, and others. Trichogrammatidae live inside the eggs, and are smaller than a pinhead. certain flies (Tachinidae, some Sarcophagida, etc.) produce large eggs and glue them onto the outside of the host. The hatching larvae then burrow into the butterfly larvae. Other flies will lays many small eggs directly on the larval hostplants, and these are ingested by the caterpillars as they feed.

Most predators of butterflies are other insects. Praying mantis, lacewings, ladybird beetles, assasin bugs, carabid beetles, spiders, ants, and wasps (Vespidae, Pompilidae, and others) prey upon the larvae. Adult butterflies are eaten by robber flies, ambush bugs, spiders, dragonflies, ants, wasps (Vespidae and Sphecidae), and tiger beetles. The sundew plant is known to catch some butterflies.

There are also many vertebrate predators including lizards, frogs, toads, birds, mice, and other rodents.

Ecosystem Roles

American coppers most likely serve as minor pollinators. They also serve as a food source for a variety of predators.

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • pollinates

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Butterfly watchers enjoy seeing these colorful butterflies, and as part of a larger community of butterfly species, attract ecotourist dollars.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse affects of American coppers on humans.

Conservation Status

American coppers are stable across their range and are of no conservation concern at this time.

Other Comments

The species Lycaena phlaeas historically was under the genuses Lycia, Migonitis, Rumicia, Heodes and Papilio. (Miller and Brown, 1981; Weed, 1926)

American Coppers are also known as little coppers and small coppers. L. phlaeas has been called American copper, flame copper, small copper, copper butterfly and short-tailed copper. L. p. feildeni hs been known as Feilden's copper, arctic copper, and tundra copper. L. p. arethusa is named Arethusa copper and American copper, and L. p. hypophlaeas has been called western American copper and American copper. Lastly, L. p. arctodon is known as beartooth copper. (Miller, 1992)


Matthew Wund (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Barb Barton (author), Special Contributors.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.


active at dawn and dusk


a period of time when growth or development is suspended in insects and other invertebrates, it can usually only be ended the appropriate environmental stimulus.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature


union of egg and spermatozoan


an animal that mainly eats leaves.


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.


a distribution that more or less circles the Arctic, so occurring in both the Nearctic and Palearctic biogeographic regions.

World Map

Found in northern North America and northern Europe or Asia.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


an animal that mainly eats nectar from flowers


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


A terrestrial biome with low, shrubby or mat-like vegetation found at extremely high latitudes or elevations, near the limit of plant growth. Soils usually subject to permafrost. Plant diversity is typically low and the growing season is short.


living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.


uses sight to communicate


North American Butterfly Association (NABA). "American Copper <<Lycaena phlaeas>>" (On-line ). North American Butterfly Association. Accessed 05/27/03 at

"Butterflies; Coppers; American Copper <<Lycaena phlaeas>>" (On-line ). Accessed 05/27/03 at

Glassberg, J. 1999. Butterflies Through Binoculars: The East. NY: Oxford University Press.

Holland, W. 1931. The Butterfly Book. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran, and Company.

Iftner, D., J. Shuey, J. Calhoun. 1992. Butterflies and Skippers of Ohio. Columbus, OH: Ohio Biological Survey Bulletin, Vol. 9 No.1.

Maynard, C. 1891. Manual of North American Butterflies. Boston, MA: DeWolfe, Fiske, and Company.

Miller, J. 1992. The Common Names of North American Butterflies. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institute Press.

Miller, L., F. Brown. 1981. A Catalogue/Checklist of the Butterflies of America North of Mexico. Lepidopterists' Society Memoir No. 2.

Opler, P., G. Krizek. 1984. Butterflies East of the Great Plains. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press.

Scott, J. 1986. The Butterflies of North America. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Shapiro, A. 1966. Butterflies of the Delaware Valley. American Entomological Society Special Publication.

Struttman, J. "Butterflies of Virginia: American Copper <<Lycaena phlaeas>>" (On-line ). Butterflies of North America. Accessed 05/27/03 at

Weed, C. 1926. Butterflies. Doubleday, Page, and Company.