The Small Copper, Lycaena phlaeas
This is a lovely little jewel of a butterfly that lives in colonies in small or large patches of rough grassland, such as the small Bourneside meadow, and some pastures down by the River Medway. It is often fast-moving, almost frenetic!
This is a real little stunner of a butterfly, a gorgeous rich coppery colour overall with dark splodges and dark edges, although the rear wing is much duller, and darker on the topside, than the fore-wing.
This one looks quite worn and lighter in colour:
The Small Copper is a colonial butterfly and therefore more or less confined to its breeding areas. It is not easy to define these areas, but it certainly looks as though Bourneside Meadow is one of the easiest places to find this stunning small butterfly in this parish. Some colonies can be large but most are small, some containing only a few individuals at any one time.
In the UK and Ireland, the Small Copper is widespread – it can be found throughout most of the countryside except the Highlands. It is commoner in southern areas. Its numbers have declined over the years due to agricultural changes, but it may be found in most rough grassy places, wasteland road verges or ditch sides, where the caterpillar food-plants may be found – Sheep’s Sorrel in acidic areas, and Common Sorrel in neutral or alkaline areas.
On the global scale the Small Copper can be found across most of the north Temperate region, including Europe, Asia, North Africa and America – quite a large area!
The adults fly and feed from a range of flowers, such as this Marjoram:
There are generally three generations of adults in a year, the first in May, the second in July/August and the third in September/October. The males hold territory, often quite pugnaciously. The courtship of the Small Copper is quick and difficult to follow. The male and female fly close together in a zig-zag, crash-land and then repeat the process.
Egg-laying is a slower and more careful process, and the females choose tall plants in the spring, and often very small plants later in the summer – possibly trying to optimise nitrogen availability. The eggs are golf-ball shaped – rather unusual.
The eggs hatch after a couple of weeks, and the caterpillars “windowpane” the chosen leaves of the Sorrel from underneath, eating all the green tissue and leaving the transparent upper epidermis, at least initially.
Like the “Blues” to which the “Coppers” are related, these butterflies can sometimes be found roosting in the evenings head-downwards on plant stems.
There are a number of unusual variants, such as a blue-spotted rarity and an even rarer “albino” form.
Predators and parasites