The most diminutive butterfly to visit our garden during late summer and early autumn is the American Copper. With its pale gray outer wings showing when in flight, it looks more like a tiny nondescript moth fluttering by. When the winged beauty lands and opens its brilliant coppery-orange hued forewings that’s when you’ll take notice. If you look closely at the open lower wings, you can see the brilliant flakes of iridescent copper for which the species is named.
Mostly we see them making swift sorties from one nectar source to another. This season it has been from the zinnias to the asters and back again, non stop throughout the warmest hours of the day. I also see them sunning in the sand at Brace Cove and nectaring at the wildflowers along the edge of the beach.
Their wingspan measures a mere 3/4 of an inch at the lower end, an inch and half at the higher side, making it one of the smallest butterflies seen locally. Spring and Summer Azure Butterflies are of a similar size.
The Bee-size Butterfly
American Coppers (Lycaena phlaeas) are Holarctic, covering northern and central America, Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa. L. phlaeas may have been introduced to North America from Scandanavia during colonial times.
Only two host plants, sheep-sorrel (Rumex acetosella), and curly dock (Rumex crispus) are normally listed for Massachusetts.
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Tattered and torn but still flying and drinking nectar