Copper Butterflies: Pictures and Identificaation Help

picture of copper butterfly

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.

picture of the top wings of a male lilac-bordered copper butterfly

Comparing the top picture with picture two, a male Lilac-ordered Copper, highlights the difference in wing spotting patterns.

picture of a mariposa copper butterfly

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.

picture of a top view of a Maripossa Copper butterfly
Here’s the top view of the Maripossa copper.

picture of an Edith's copper butterfly
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.

picture of a side view of a Blue Copper butterfly, Lycaena heteronea
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.

picture of the top view of the wings of a female blue copper butterfly
Here’s a picture that shows the top view of a female Blue Copper.

picture of a Hermes Copper butterfly, Lycaena hermes
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.

picture of a side view of a Tailed Copper butterfly
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.

picture of a side view of a Bronze Copper butterfly
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.

picture of a top view of a Bronze Copper Butterfly
This picture shows the top view of the Bronze Copper. It’s hard to misidentify it.

picture of a side view of a Dorcas Copper butterfly
Dorcas Copper butterflies are special to the Mountain Prairie states. The side view highights the brown shading to the wings.

picture of a side view of a Gorgon Copper butterfly
Gorgon coppers are a California species with a less than distinctive brown top and side.

picture of a side view of a Great Copper butterfly
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.

picture of a Ruddy Copper butterfly
Ruddy Coppers are wide ranging in the West.