Thursday, October 1, 2015

Small Coppers: warm colours and fiery temperament

Today's Guardian Country Diary is about small copper butterflies.

This last week of unbroken sunshine has produced some excellent opportunities to watch these lively little butterflies. This was one of two contesting a sunny, south facing slope on the moorland edge near Stanhope in Weardale, where some heather was still flowering.

These are amazingly aggressive little butterflies and this individual rose several times from its favourite sun-bathing stone to chase off its rival. What really surprised me was how fast and furious these aerial battles are - I've often watched fighting male butterflies but this was the first time I had seen and heard a clash of wings.

The lower slopes of heather moorlands offer some of the best opportunities for watching the late summer generation of small coppers in Weardale because there is plenty of nectar available from heather flowers and also usually plenty of sorrel, their larval food plant. It seems to be especially prolific in the year after heather burning, maybe because the minerals in the ash promote very vigorous sorrel growth.

The other abundant nectar source for them at this time of year at lower altitudes is devil's-bit scabious, which has a long flowering period. 


  1. I have never noticed the blue scales before.

    1. There are two forms, with and without blue spots. Blue-spotted ones are much less common in most places, though less so in the north apparently. Also a v. rare form with white scales replacing the black ones.

  2. Beautiful butterflies in great shots, I haven't seen a single one this year. They are normally easy enough to find on the local park.


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