The Small Copper Butterfly (Lycaena phlaeas)

Small Copper Butterfly (Lycaena phlaeas) © 2009 Steve Ogden
The Small Copper Butterfly (Lycaena phlaeas) is found throughout much of British Isles, Europe and North Africa.

This little butterfly is found in small numbers in a wide variety of sunny open habitats such as woodland rides, hills, commons and grassy coastal cliff tops.

The males are restless, highly territorial and easily disturbed. The butterflies are often seen basking on bare ground and nectaring on a wide variety of flowers such as knotgrass, fleabane, dandelions, buddleias and heathers.

During good summers in the British Isles the Small Copper may have several generations between April and October, with the last generation overwintering as a caterpillar.

Small Copper Butterfly (Lycaena phlaeas) © 2010 Steve Ogden
With good views there are no other species in the British Isle that the Small Copper Butterfly can be easily confused with.

Wingspan ranges between 30 – 35mm with females slightly larger and with more rounded forewing tips than the males.

Butterflies commonly seen in gardens in the British Isles are –

The Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly, The Peacock Butterfly,
The Painted Lady Butterfly, Comma Butterfly, The Red Admiral Butterfly, The Large White Butterfly, Small White Butterfly and Green-veined Butterfly

Butterflies more likely to be seen in more open countryside and woodland can be seen in the Butterfly Galleries

Small Copper Butterfly (Lycaena phlaeas) © 2010 Steve OgdenSmall Copper Butterfly (Lycaena phlaeas) © 2017 Steve Ogden

Small Copper Butterfly (Lycaena phlaeas) © 2009 Steve OgdenPair of Small Copper Butterflies (Lycaena phlaeas) © 2011 Steve Ogden

Small Copper Butterfly form caeruleopunctata (Lycaena phlaeas) © 2007 Steve Ogden

Variations/aberrations are common and most frequently occur as changes in shading and extent of the black markings.

The form caeruleopunctata shown left is a particularly attractive and frequent form having a row of blue spots inside the orange band on the hindwing.

There is also a white form that occurs less frequently.

Small Copper Butterfly white form (Lycaena phlaeas) on fleabane-Lizard Peninsular-Cornwall-© 2019 Steve Ogden

Small Copper Butterfly white and blue aberration  (Lycaena phlaeas) Wiltshire, Uk photo Ted Benham

The Small Copper Butterfly caterpillar (Lycaena phlaeas)

Small Copper Butterfly egg (Lycaena phlaeas) © 2013 Steve OgdenSmall Copper 1.5 mm caterpillar (Lycaena phlaeas) © 2013 Steve Ogden


The Small Copper Butterfly caterpillar may be found in any month of the year.

The larval foodplants are Common Sorrel (Rumex acetosa), Sheeps Sorrel (Rumex acetosella) and less frequently docks (Rumex).

Single eggs, .6 mm in size and resembling miniature golf balls, are laid singly on the upper side of a leaf of the larval foodplant.

The egg featured was on Common Sorrel on the grassy cliff top at Predannack on the Lizard in south west Cornwall.

Small Copper 2 day old caterpillar (Lycaena phlaeas) © 2013 Steve Ogden

Small Copper Butterfly caterpillar (Lycaena phlaeas) © 2014 Steve Ogden

early signs of  Small Copper caterpillar feeding © 2013 Steve Ogden
When small the caterpillars may be located by the window grooves in leaves left by feeding where only one side of the leaf has been eaten.

The caterpillars are slug shaped and often located on the underside of the leaf aligned alongside the central vein.

There are two main colour forms, green or green striped with pink.

After a month the caterpillars are c 15 mm long and fully grown.

Late broods overwinter for over 6 months as a caterpillar, attached low down amongst the larval foodplant by a silken pad.

British butterfly caterpillars

Moth caterpillars

Small Copper Butterfly caterpillar (Lycaena phlaeas) © 2014 Steve OgdenSmall Copper caterpillar (Lycaena phlaeas) © 2014 Steve Ogden

The Small Copper Butterfly parasites (Lycaena phlaeas)

The caterpillars of the Small Copper Butterfly are heavily parasitised.

The parasitised caterpillar featured was swept from Sheep’s Sorrel in the Autumn beside a cliff path in south west Cornwall and reared on.

Those overwintering larvae of the Small Copper seem to be particularly vulnerable, presumably due to the extended length of time spent at this stage.

The 10 mm, pale brown pupa is attached by a silk girdle and pad beneath a leaf or stem. The butterfly emerges within 3/4 weeks according to temperature.

parasitised caterpillar of Small Copper Butterfly (Lycaena phlaeas) © 2014 Steve OgdenSmall Copper butterfly wasp parasites © 2014 Steve Ogden

Recommended Butterfly Books

Pocket Guide to the Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland – Richard Lewington.
The Cornwall Butterfly Atlas – Watcher, Worth and Spalding
The Complete Guide to British butterflies – Margaret Brooks and Charles Knight.
Collins Butterfly Guide of Britain and Europe – Tolman and Lewington.