American copper

(Lycaena phlaeas)

Conservation Status
American copper
Photo by Mike Poeppe
  IUCN Red List

not listed


N5 - Secure

SNA - Not applicable


not listed


American copper is a small to medium-sized butterfly with a wingspan of to 1.

The upper surface of the forewing is bright coppery reddish-orange with black spots and a broad, dark brownish-gray submarginal band. There are 9 distinct black spots: a cell spot, a cell end spot, and 7 postdiscal spots. The cell end spot is 1 32 to 3 64 wide. The lowermost pair of postdiscal spots is frequently fused together. The submarginal band is 15½% of the total wing width when measured near the middle (vein Cu1). The hindwing upper surface is dark brownish-gray with pale spots, black spots, and a wide, distinct, brownish-orange submarginal band. The submarginal band has 5 black spots the two lowest (closest to the anal angle) fused together.

The underside of the forewing is orange with a pale brownish-gray submarginal band. The black spots on the upperside are reflected on the lower and are bordered with white. There is also an additional basal spot and row of 3 or 4 submarginal unbordered spots. The underside of the hindwiing is light brownish-gray with a broad, slightly darker submarginal band. Within the submarginal band there is a narrow, strongly wavy/serrated, bright orange band.

The antennae are black-and-white striped with a orange-tipped club.

The caterpillar is short, no more than about long. The head is small. It is retracted into the thorax except when feeding. The thorax and abdomen are green. They are densely covered with short hairs and are dappled with tiny, white, mushroom-like glands that may not be apparent without a hand lens. The middle of the first thoracic segment is cleft. The abdomen has a thin upper (dorsal) stripe. Mature caterpillars are found from early June onward.


The description above refers to the eastern subspecies, Lycaena phlaeas hypophlaeas.




Wingspan: to 1


Similar Species

  Bronze copper (Lycaena hyllus) is much larger with a wingspan of up to 1½. Males are purplish above with no orange on the forewing. The female forewing is paler yellowish-orange. The hindwing underside is paler, almost white, with a broad orange submarginal band.  

Disturbed areas: vacant lots, fields, pastures, roadsides, power lines, and lake shores.




Two broods: June to early July and August to September




Caterpillars hide in lower leaf stalks or decaying plant litter or at the base of a host plant during the day. They emerge at night to feed on leaves. They are attended by ants in a symbiotic relationship. Tiny, mushroom-like glands on their body occasionally exude a chemical that attracts ants.

Adults often bask on bare ground. Males are territorial and will challenge any small insect or other copper that enters their territory.


Life Cycle


The female lays pale green eggs singly on the upper side of leaves or stems of host plants. When the eggs hatch the larvae feed on the underside of leaves. Younger larvae chew holes in the lower surface, older larvae create longitudinal channels. Both leave the upper epidermis intact. After about three weeks they drop off the plant. They pupate in leaf litter or under rocks. They overwinter as second or third instar caterpillars and pupate in late March of the following year. The first brood adults emerge three weeks later.


Larva Hosts


Curly dock (Rumex crispus), pale dock (Rumex altissimus), and red sorrel (Rumex acetosella)


Adult Food


Flower nectar


Distribution Map



7, 20, 21, 24, 27, 29, 30, 71, 75.




Widespread and locally common



Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths)  


Papilionoidea (butterflies)  


Lycaenidae (gossamer-winged butterflies)  


Lycaeninae (coppers)  


Lycaena (copper butterflies)  
  Subgenus Lycaena  

Subordinate Taxa


American copper (Lycaena phlaeas alpestris)

Beartooth copper (Lycaena phlaeas arctodon)

Arethusa copper (Lycaena phlaeas arethusa)

Yellowish American copper (Lycaena phlaeas feildeni)

Little copper (Lycaena phlaeas hypophlaeas)


There are at least 27 subspecies of Lycaena phlaeas worldwide. Only 5 occur in North America. Only one subspecies is found in eastern and central North America. For many years it was called Lycaena phlaeas americana (Harris, 1862). This was later determined to be a junior synonym of an older name Lycaena phlaeas hypophlaeas (Boisduval, 1852). This is the only subspecies found in Minnesota.

Some authorities (Opler & Krizek [1984] and Opler & Malikul [1992]) suggest that the eastern subspecies was introduced from Europe. This is based on appearance; the preferred larval food plants, which were introduced from Europe; and the preference for disturbed places. This contention is rejected by other authorities based on difference in appearance and the ability of native species to adapt to introduced food plants. Mitochondrial DNA analysis would settle the issue but has not yet been performed.






Common Names


American copper (North America)

common copper

little copper

small copper (Europe)


In North America we call this species American copper but there is nothing distinctively American about it. Elsewhere it has many names depending on the region it is found. In Europe it is called small copper, which may be the most appropriate global name.









Anal angle

The angle at the corner formed where the outer and inner margins meet.



In Lepidoptera: the large central area of the wing surrounded by veins.



The developmental stage of arthropods between each molt; in insects, the developmental stage of the larvae or nymph.






Visitor Photos

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Mike Poeppe

    American copper   American copper  

Nancy Falkum

    American copper      

New Jersey Tea with American Copper Butterfly (Lower Right)

    narrow-leaved New Jersey tea      
    American copper      



American Copper
  American Copper  

Copyright DianesDigitals

Lycaena phlaeas (American Copper)
Allen Chartier
  Lycaena phlaeas (American Copper)  



Visitor Videos

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Other Videos
  American Copper - November 6, 2013
Don Gagnon

Published on Nov 6, 2013

American Copper (Lycaena phlaeas), Nectaring Sheffield Pink Chrysanthemum, Butterfly Garden, Gagnon Wildlife Habitat, Pottersville, Somerset, Massachusetts, Wednesday afternoon, November 6, 2013, 1:08 PM / 1:13 PM / 1:14 PM - Canon PowerShot SX50 HS MVI_56011 / MVI_56048 / MVI_56049; 1:26 min.

  American Copper Nectaring Butterflyweed - August 25, 2013
Don Gagnon

Published on Aug 27, 2013

American Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) nectaring Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa​), Butterfly Garden, Gagnon Wildlife Habitat, Pottersville, Somerset, Massachusetts, Sunday afternoon, August 25, 2013, 11:14 AM / 11:15 AM / 11:17 AM / 11:22 AM - Canon PowerShot SX50 HS MVI_43118 / MVI_43119 / MVI_43120; 2:48 min. SHOW MORE

  American Copper Butterfly (Lycaena phlaeus)
Kim Smith

Uploaded on Jul 11, 2010

The brilliantly colored "Flame Copper" nectaring at shasta daisy 'Becky' (Leucanthemum x superbum), filmed in our Gloucester garden. More information abut butterfly gardening on my word press blog at kimsmithdesigns.

  American Copper Butterflies

Uploaded on May 31, 2007

Mating American Copper butterflies, at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, May 13, 2007




Visitor Sightings

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  Dan W. Andree

At Frenchman’s Bluff SNA. I had no idea what it was. At first from a distance thought it might be a darker colored Variegated Fritillary but got closer to it and seen it was a butterfly I had never seen before. Its colors reminded or made me think of fall harvest decorations. Like fall color leafs and orange and brown etc. colors pumpkin colors etc. Beautiful butterfly. Also for a first time seen some Common Copper Butterflies at Twin Valley Prairie SNA. I filmed and photographed them they were little and really cute. I got some photos of that Tortoiseshell so will see how they turned out I filmed it but not sure if I got it very good. I haven’t uploaded the footage to a larger monitor. I know the Common Copper photos and video is really nice so hope some of the Milbert’s Tortoiseshell is nice to. I do think some photos will be but not so sure about the video.

Seen so many Monarch’s at both SNA’s mentioned here. I swear a couple hundred or more. They were feeding on mostly prairie blazing star flowers. I could carefully walk through areas and monarchs flew up 3-6 feet in front of me. Some just sat and fed if I was motionless. Not a very spooky butterfly. A few were still mating but most feeding. Must have been a hatch out or something. Didn’t see any regals and haven’t seen any at all at Frenchman’s this whole season but did see a few males at the other mentioned SNA which was nice to see.

Monarchs seem to be doing extremely well in the two mention SNA’s which is good but some other lesser known species not so much. Monarchs were the only species of large butterflies seen. Only seen 2 painted ladies which sometimes they can be all over the place but not a whole lot of species observed this season other than the Monarchs and happy to say lots of them. Concerning though for the other species.

… Seen the Tortoiseshell and Common Coppers yesterday mid afternoon to late afternoon.

  Mike Poeppe

Location: near Houston, MN

American copper

  Mike Poeppe

Location: near Houston, MN

American copper

  Nancy Falkum

Location: Kellogg Weaver Dunes SNA, Weaver Dunes Unit


American copper

  Nancy Falkum

Location: Kellogg Weaver Dunes SNA, Weaver Dunes Unit

New Jersey Tea with American Copper Butterfly (Lower Right)

narrow-leaved New Jersey tea  




Created 3/18/2019

Last Updated:

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