The American Copper Butterfly

Follow the metamorphosis of an American Copper caterpillar into a tiny, fast-flying and playful butterfly. 

By Judy Burris and Wayne Richards 

Tiny insects are living extraordinary lives right in your backyard. With up-close photography and personal field notes, The Secret Lives of Backyard Bugs (Storey Publishing, 2011) by Judy Burris and Wayne Richards reveals an amazing world that many of us never see. This thrilling glimpse into the activities going on in every backyard will surprise and captivate nature lovers of all ages. 

Buy this book from the GRIT store: The Secret Lives of Backyard Bugs.

American Copper Butterfly

Order: Lycaena phlaeas 

We first sighted this small, erratic, fast-flying butterfly while on one of our many photo adventures, and noticed that it kept visiting a small patch of weeds. Upon very close inspection — on our hands and knees, with noses almost touching the ground — we found some white dots that we hoped were eggs, and collected the leaves.

At home we had to use a magnifying glass to find out if we were right. They weren’t much bigger than a period on this page, but they sure looked like eggs to us. The weed we identified as sheep sorrel, common in our area. We waited and hoped that the eggs would hatch — and sure enough, they did.

Host plants: Sheep sorrel, mountain sorrel

 

American Copper Egg   

Eggs 

White, with tiny dimples like a golf ball, American Copper eggs are by far the smallest butterfly eggs we’ve ever seen. They’re laid singly.

 American Copper Caterpillar   

Caterpillar 

When newly hatched, the caterpillars are light yellow.

 Caterpillar close up 

 

Caterpillar 

After first molt, the caterpillar turns light green, with short fuzzy hairs covering most of its body. It blends in well on the host plant. Eating slowly, it matures in a few weeks, reaching only about a quarter of an inch long. At maturity, the caterpillar stops eating and rests for a while before shedding its skin one last time.  

 American Copper Chrysalis   

Chrysalis 

The Copper’s small, bean-shaped chrysalis is green at first.

 Chrysalis 

Chrysalis 

It gradually turns light brown.

  

Chrysalis 

After about ten days, the chrysalis becomes transparent. 

 Two American Coppers 

 Adult 

Only the size of a nickel, the little Copper doesn’t stay still for very long. It often chases others of its kind, as if playing tag.

  American Copper On Leaf 

Adult 

Because its host plant is very short, the Copper frequents fields and meadows with a lot of low-growing vegetation.

 Perched American Copper 

Adult 

The Copper drinks nectar from wildflowers, dandelions, and white clover, among other flowers.  

 

Take a look at more cool insects:

Classifying Bee Species
Discovering Your Backyard Bugs 

This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from The Secret Lives of Backyard Bugs by Judy Burris and Wayne Richards and published by Storey Publishing, 2011. Buy this book from our store: The Secret Lives of Backyard Bugs.

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