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Contents > Butterflies > Resident > Coppers > Common Copper

Common Copper

Pepe Para Riki

Lycaena salustius

Distribution & Status Common Copper Distrubtion Map

Common Found nationwide within reasonable distance of it's foodplant, Wire Vine - Pohuehue (Muehlenbeckia spp). However it is not as abundant as they used to be, especially in dunes, due to foodplant loss. But since it's foodplant is becoming a fashionable native bush to grow, it could quite possibly increase in numbers with some good habitat management of sand dunes and reserves.

iNaturalist NZ
Observations map for
Common Copper (L salustius)

iNaturalist NZ
Observations map for
Maui's Copper (L edna)

Scientific Classification More info











Classification changes

All the Copper Butterflies are under debate as to their classification. Presently nzButterfly.info is using George Gibbs classifications. But there is merit in the Brian and Hamish Patrick’s reclassification in 2012. nzbutterfly.info will be adopting the Patrick’s classification in the present website overhaul. This will increase the number of Copper species from 4 to 7.

The Common Copper is split into the Coastal Copper and Maui’s Copper. The Glade Copper has the ‘enysii’ variation becoming the North Island Glade Copper. The Boulder Copper is also split in two with the introduction of the Canterbury Alpine Boulder Copper. Finally the Rauparaha’s Copper is unchanged.

Notes: All links are to the relevant iNaturalist NZ observation page. These pages have the scientific names which are omitted here.

A native species of Butterfly that still needs farther study and whose life history is not as well known as you would first think. (See bottom of page for unanswered questions). This is a short-lived butterfly with individuals only known to live 1 to 2 weeks. The Common Copper has 3 main variations throughout the country, but even these vary throughout their respective ranges. Whereas the Rauparaha's and Glade Coppers are both more consistent in their pattern and colouring. Despite so many variations the Common Copper has a constant double wing vein marking in the centre of the hindwing, unfortunately this sometimes requires catching the butterfly to get a close enough look to determine this, especially on the females, where the double wing vein marking is almost blurred into each other. Common Coppers have a greater tendency to travel then other coppers, which are not generally found more then 20-50 metres from the larval foodplant. All the coppers are all suffering from Wasp predation, especially paper wasps, as they are a good source of protein for the wasp's developing larvae. Attracting Common Coppers to your garden is fairly easy, just grow some Wire Vine - Pohuehue (Muehlenbeckia spp) and a plant a few nectar plants which have flowers at the end of stems as these are more favoured by the Copper Butterflies as landing sites.

Ovum  In English

Laid on underside of foodplant leaves near the edge. Usually located on north facing projecting branches or shoots of the foodplant and on mature leaves. Greenish-blue in colour and look like a tiny flattened sphere with white ridges. They hatch in about 10 days. The larva eats a small hole near the top so it can get out, but will leave the rest of the shell behind, this gives the appearance of eggs with a blackish spot.

Larvae  In English

A dark leaf-like green with distinct reddish black dorsal line and diagonal segment markings which can appear more like minute white spots. It has it's legs and head covered by fleshy side flanges (giving it a Woodlouse shape), it appears to have a slow slug-like movement. It is similar to the Glade Copper, but has duller green colouring. The larvae live about 6 weeks and have 4 instars.

1st instar larvae are green with and a double row of long curved reddish-brown setae along the mid-line. It takes about 10 days until the first moult. In the 2nd instar they develop short and straight setae which they retain during the rest of their life as a larva. The 2nd and 3rd instars both take about 6 days each. In the 3rd instar they develop a few small 'pom-pom' setae which can be used to distinguish them from Rauparaha's and Glade Copper. These 'pom-pom' setae increase in the final 4th instar. The 4th instar lasts about 20 days in summer months.

The 1st and 2nd instar larvae feed beneath the leaves, grazing the lower tissues in oval pattern. From the 3rd instar they start to eat leaves from the top and eat right through the leaf. In flowering season, November and December, they will also eat the flower clusters. Overwinters after 1st instar moult. Since the foodplant is partly deciduous, it is suspected that the larvae move to a sheltered spot near the base of the foodplant and either spend the winter in a quiescence or diapause. I suspect that it is most likely a quiescence meaning they continue feeding on warmer winter days. Feeding is recorded as resuming in early September when foodplant growth starts. These overwintering larvae go on to pupate in October. Grows up to 18mm when fully grown.

Pupa  In English

Greenish-yellow with reddish-brown wing cases. They hide amongst dry litter or stones on the ground usually protected by a dried leaf which they attach themselves to by cremaster and has some silken strands in place of a girdle over it's thorax to help secure it. Pupation lasts 18 to 20 days, but this can be longer. They are very difficult to find in the wild, which is not helped by the foodplant as it forms a dense mat to the ground.

Imago  In English

The imago has a 24-35mm wingspan. The male has glowing copper colour with pronounced double wing veins on the fore and hindwings. Whereas the female has a single broad black marking along the wing veins on forewings and double wing vein markings on hindwings. Females also have faint blue spots around edge of wings and are more darkly marked. It has fast and jerky short flights which are 1-3m above ground and vegetation. The Common Copper has rapid wing beats and seldom glides. Males generally fly faster and in a more zigzag pattern then females. If in the same habitat, they can seen flying with seen flying with Boulder, Glade and Rauparaha's Coppers apart from January when the Glade Copper is very scarce. This probably reduces the chances of hybridising as the have being recorded as hybridising. They usually come to rest on a projecting stem of vegetation or a flower (especially Blackberry flowers). They mainly feed with wings closed, but I observed them basking with their wings open while feeding. They orientate themselves so that their head is away from the sun and will open wings to varying degrees, which appears to depend on how warm they feel as the wings are open wide on cool days and early morning, but are seldom more then 45° on hot days. Males appear to outnumber females 3-to-1, but this might be to do with females spending time ovipositing, resting and feeding. There is said to be 2 generations per year, however it is suspected that there is 3 generations in some localities in favourable years. I suspect they have a constant cycle of all lifestages from November to March similar to the Red and Yellow Admirals. January usually has the highest number of imagos.

Variations and Sub-species

There are many local variations of the Common Copper. I have added a page describing the main variations with pictures of each. I have not mentioned or shown the cross breeds between Coppers as I don't have pictures to convey the many confusing differences that can be encountered.
Presently there is no official sub-species, however all Coppers are presently being reviewed for re-classification. Regarding the Common Copper, it is likely to become split between 4 and 8 species. Some old names like L maui maybe resurrected for this purpose.
Common Copper pictures of variations


A open country Butterfly that is seen in most types of habitat from sea level to 2000m since it's foodplants grow in most habitats from sub-alpine tussocklands to coastal dunes.

Food Plants

They prefer the three types Wire Vine, Pohuehue (Muehlenbeckia complexa), Large-leafed Pohuehue (Muehlenbeckia australis) and Creeping Pohuehue (Muehlenbeckia axillaris). There has being recordings of eggs on Sheep's Sorrel (Rumex acetosella) and Broad-leaved Dock (Rumex obtusifolius). This is not surprising since other Lycaena genus butterflies overseas quite often prefer Dock and Sorrel.

Lifecycle of the Common Copper
Unknown Facts

The Common Copper is a species of Butterfly that still needs farther study.

Unanswered questions are;

Please contact nzButterfly.info if you can answer any of the above questions.

Contents > Butterflies > Resident > Coppers > Common Copper