The earlier pictures were taken on my wee compact Canon ixus 970IS, which involved sneaking up on the butterflies. This can be very frustrating when they fly off, but very rewarding when they don't!

Since 2012 I have been using a Panasonic Lumix FZ150, which allows me to zoom in to the butterflies from a couple of metres away.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Small Copper - Lycaena phlaeas

The Small Copper, Lycaena phlaeas, is a bright little butterfly that occurs over most of the UK and much of Europe. It also seems to occur in Asia, North Africa and North America where it is know as the American Copper. Here there are two generations a year, with the first butterflies being seen in May. This generation is seen until late June and then there is a bit of a lull until the second generation appears in late July/early August. The second generation seems to be far more numerous and Small Copper butterflies are still seen flying through until early October. 

Small Coppers aren't seen here in great numbers. The males are very territorial and will fly up and chase off any other insect that dares to fly too close. They usually then return to their favoured sunny spot, making they quite easy to photograph! 

Quite a large proportion of the Small Coppers seen in East Lothian have a number of blue scales on their hind wings. This is referred to as the aberration caeruleopunctata. However, sometimes there can be as few as one blue scale on each wing and other times there can be five distinct blue spots. I am not convinced that this is so much an aberration as just a slight variation!

The two main food plants for Small Copper caterpillars here are Docken, Rumex obtusifolius, and Sorrel, Rumex acetosa. Here is a female I saw laying eggs on Docken a couple of years ago. 

Two years ago, at the end of August, I saw a female laying eggs on some Sorrel at a restored open-cast coal mine. I noticed that a number of the Sorrel plants had Small Copper eggs on them, so I dug one of them up and planted it in a pot in my garden. 

The egg was less than a millimetre across. A few days later the egg had clearly hatched, but it was a few days before I managed to find the caterpillar, which was larger than I expected (about 4mm long). Over the next few weeks, I was surprised to see that it appeared to be larger on some days than others. It was a while before it dawned on me that there were actually two caterpillars in the pot!!

I kept an eye on them for the next few weeks, but when the cold weather arrived in December they completely disappeared. Despite searching the plant thoroughly I couldn't find them and I thought that they may have become a snack for the garden birds.
However, in March I was pleased to find two large caterpillars and a smaller one in the pot!! They must have over-wintered just under the surface of the soil.

They munched their way through the sorrel until they reached about 10 or 12mm and then they disappeared again at the end of April. I presume that they formed chrysalises in the crown of the plant or in the soil, but I wasn't able to find them. Possibly they had wandered off to pupate in another part of the garden.

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