Sixteen native copper butterflies (subfamily Lycaeninae) of butterflies, inhabit North American fields, forests and roadsides. All but four inhabit Western areas. The small number of species translates into a special day when a copper butterfly lands in the garden.
At a distance, the brown wings of copper butterflies gives them a physical resemblance with many of the brown wing, female blue butterfly species. With the exception of the Blue Copper, the top wings of most male coppers come in shades of orange or copper. One slight identification problem comes up. While most copper butterflies follow the tailess rule like the blue butterflies, the Tailed Copper (Lycaena arota) provides an exception to the rule. They are a common species in the West, with the exception of the northern most and desert areas.
Accurate identification requires a view of the underside of the wings. Often coppers nectar with their wings folded, so getting a side view picture can be a relatively easy task.
Two colorful western species, the Lilac-bordered Copper (Lycaena nivalis) and Purplish Copper, share many physical features.
The Purplish Copper (Lycaena helloides) inhabits both high and low elevation areas.
The name comes from the purple shade on the top wings of the male. It eventually fades, leaving the wings a duller brown color. Hints of purple remain on the wings of the male in the top picture.
Along with the purple tinge to the wings, the male Purplish Copper displays orange spots at the bottom of the wing and dark spots on the wings.
Purplish Copper butterflies often get differentiated from Lilac-bordered Coppers by the presence of more dark spots on the top wings.
Comparing the top picture with picture two, a male Lilac-ordered Copper, highlights the difference in wing spotting patterns.
The Mariposa Copper (Lycaena mariposa), a hardy species, inhabits both lower and higher elevations areas of Western North America.
The contrasting orange (top) and gray (bottom) bottom wings, seen in picture three, also make is a fairly easy copper to identify.
Look for it in areas with high density heath plants such as blueberry bushes and heather.
Here’s the top view of the Maripossa copper.
The Edith’s Copper (Lycaena editha), a somewhat dull color copper of the Northwest and Northern Rocky Mountain regions, can look similar to the Great Copper.
Edith’s Copper tend to be a higher elevation species while Great Coppers tend to be lower elevation species.
Picture four shows a side view of the wings and their series of darker and lighter brown shaded spots. The washed out color extends to a couple of missing orange spots at the bottom of the lower wing.
Ok. So identifying Copper butterflies in the West can get a bit confusing when you get to the Blue Copper. It’s normally larger than the real blue butterflies. The side view shows a pattern to help with identification.
Here’s a picture that shows the top view of a female Blue Copper.
The next Copper butterflies confusion comes from the species with the tails like the Hairstreak buterflies. The Hermes Copper is a California species found only in the very south around the San Diego area.
Tailed Copper butterflies are more wide ranging, found in most of the Rocky Mountain states and along the West Coast. The patter on the under side of the wing, along with the tail are very good identification clues.
In the Northeast, New England and the Uppermidwest, the Bronze Copper has a bold color on both the top and bottom of the wings. Here’s a side view.
This picture shows the top view of the Bronze Copper. It’s hard to misidentify it.
Dorcas Copper butterflies are special to the Mountain Prairie states. The side view highights the brown shading to the wings.
Gorgon coppers are a California species with a less than distinctive brown top and side.
Great Copper butterflies are another less than distinctive looking butterfly from California, with maybe some spillover into Oregon. The top of the wings are brown. Look for the pattern on the side view for identification help.
Ruddy Coppers are wide ranging in the West.