Insect Identification logo

American Copper (Lycaena phlaeas)

Detailing the identifying qualities of the American Copper, including physical features and territorial reach.

 Updated: 1/30/2018; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ¬©

  American Copper  
Picture of American-Copper-Butterfly

Though found on other continents, the American Copper is one of North America's most popular and wide-ranging butterflies.

Thought to have emigrated from Europe, the American Copper adapted well to its new home. Ranging throughout almost every state and province, the American Copper is ubiquitous, and can be found in a variety of habitats. In the east, look for them in fields and pastures as well as roadsides and meadows. In the west, look for them in higher elevations on hiking trails and outcroppings of vegetation among the rocks. Adults are active from mid-spring through the end of autumn. They drink nectar from a variety of flowers like clover, yarrow and buttercups.

When resting with wings flat, one can admire the bright orange color that covers most of the forewings of the American Copper. The hindwings are mostly brown with a faint black circle near the midline on each. Both sets of wings are bedecked with medium-sized black dots; spread out on the forewing, and along the bottom edge of the hindwing. A white fringe borders all wings. When the wings are raised, The American Copper looks like an altogether different butterfly. The rich tawny brown is replaced with whitish-gray. The underside of the forewing is still largely orange, but the hindwing is mostly gray with three rows of small black dots. A thin, bright, orange-red line traces the bottom edge of the hindwing near the fringe.

Caterpillars of the American Copper are fond of eating the leafy parts of sheep and alpine sorrel, a plant from the buckwheat family. Curly dock, another ground-level leafy plant, is also preferred. Their bodies are green and plump, completely covered in very short hairs. The side of each segment has a tiny yellow dot and its tail end tapers. Two to four broods can be produced in one year with more occurring in the warmer states of the U.S. and Mexico.

American Copper Information

Category: Butterfly or Moth
Common Name: American Copper
Scientific Name: Lycaena phlaeas
Other Name(s): Common Copper, Flame, Copper, Small Copper

Taxonomy Hierarchy

 Arrow graphic Kingdom: Animalia
  Arrow graphic Phylum: Arthropoda
   Arrow graphic Class: Insecta
    Arrow graphic Order: Lepidoptera
     Arrow graphic Family: Lycaenidae
      Arrow graphic Genus: Lycaena
       Arrow graphic Species: phlaeas

Size, Identifying Tags and Territorial Reach

Size (Adult, Length): Size (Adult, Length): 22 mm to 28 mm (0.858 inches to 1.092 inches)
Identifying Colors: orange, brown, white, black, gray
Additional Descriptors: dots, spots, two-toned, band, fringe, small, flying

North American Territorial Reach (Though Not Limited To): Alabama; Alaska; Arkansas; California; Colorado; Connecticut; Delaware; Georgia; Idaho; Illinois; Indiana; Iowa; Kansas; Kentucky; Maine; Maryland; Massachusetts; Michigan; Minnesota; Missouri; Montana; Nebraska; Nevada; New Hampshire; New Jersey; New York; North Carolina; North Dakota; Ohio; Oklahoma; Oregon; Pennsylvania; Rhode Island; South Carolina; South Dakota; Tennessee; Utah; Vermont; Virginia; West Virginia; Wisconsin; Wyoming; Alberta; New Brunswick; Newfoundland and Labrador; Nova Scotia; Ontario; Prince Edward Island; Quebec

A Note About Territorial Reach: Keep in mind that an insect's reach is not limited by lines drawn on a map and therefore species may appear in areas, regions and/or states beyond those listed above. Insects are driven by environmental factors, food supplies and mating patterns and do not nescessarily work within hard-and-fast territorial lines like we humans do.

BugFinder: What is it?