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American Copper (Lycaena phlaeas)


Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the American Copper



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Image Credit: Nathan L. taken by the Pawtuxet River in Warwick, RI
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Though found on other continents, the American Copper is one of North America's most popular and wide-ranging butterflies.



Updated: 01/26/2021; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
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.




General Characteristics
Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon
Patterned insect icon
Striped or banded insect icon




Taxonomic Hierarchy
Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Lepidoptera
        Family: Lycaenidae
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          Genus: Lycaena
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            Species: phlaeas
Identifying Information
Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Lycaena phlaeas
Other Name(s): Common Copper, Flame, Copper, Small Copper
Category: Butterfly or Moth
Size (Adult; Length): 22mm to 28mm (0.86" to 1.10")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: orange, brown, white, black, gray
Descriptors: dots, spots, two-toned, band, fringe, small, flying
Relative Size Comparison
Typical Size Between 22mm (0.9in) and 28mm (1.1in)
Lo: 22mm
Md: 25mm
Hi: 28mm
Territorial Map*
U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Canadian territory of Alberta graphic
Canadian territory of British Columbia graphic
Canadian territory of Manitoba graphic
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Canadian territory of Newfoundland and Labrador graphic
Canadian territory of Ontario graphic
Canadian territory of Quebec graphic
Canadian territory of Saskatchewan graphic
Territory map graphic of the country of Mexico
Contiguous United States shape map layer graphic
Alaska  
Hawaii  
Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the American Copper may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the American Copper. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.

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