Insects of Britain and Ireland: butterflies

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L. Watson and M. J. Dallwitz


Adults. Wingspan 22–36 mm (phlaeas), or 44–52 mm (dispar); the fringes not banded. Medium built; short-bodied. The eyes white-rimmed; notched or emarginate at the bases of the antennae and contiguous with the bases of the antennal sockets; hairy. Antennae white-ringed, reaching noticeably less than halfway to the wingtips. The antennal clubs gradual-elongate; somewhat curved to not curved; not flattened. Labial palps ascending. Having all 6 legs fully developed and operational for walking. Fore-legs without a tibial epiphysis. Tibiae of middle legs 2-spurred. Posterior tibiae 2-spurred.

Forewings. Forewings apically blunt to pointed. The outer and hind margins angled at about 98–105 degrees. The outer margins convexly curved to more or less straight. Uppersides of the forewings coppery red; with a conspicuous discal mark to without a discal mark (often disguised among the other spots); in normal forms of the native species exhibiting black spots ante-medianly and in a post-median series, with the termen and apex bordered dark fuscous.

Hindwings. Hindwings broadly rounded, or trapezoidal; not tailed; with the outer margins not scalloped, or with the outer margins scalloped to with the outer margins not scalloped. Uppersides of the hindwings fuscous, or coppery red; usually conspicuously patterned; with a conspicuous discal mark (usually, in the form of a small dark mark), or without a discal mark; in normal forms of the native species usually dark fuscous with a coppery orange-red subterminal fascia enclosing a series of black dots along the termen, the fascia in L. phlaeas sometimes preceded by a row of blue spots.

Undersides of wings. Undersides of the wings multiply patterned with pale-ringed black spots.

Undersides of the forewings colour-patterned more or less as a less bright reproduction of the uppersides.

Undersides of the hindwings ochreous-grey-whitish and basally bluish (L. dispar) or pale brownish (L. phlaeas), dark-spotted subterminally and in the disc, and with some reddish-orange terminal suffusion (L. phlaeas) or a reddish orange terminal band (L. dispar); with a subterminal orange band contiguous internally and externally with rows of black dots, or with a subterminal row of orange spots which are apposed to terminal black dots, or with a subterminal row of isolated orange spots; without metallic markings.

Wing venation. Forewings 11 veined. Forewings with 1 tubular anal vein; the anal veins of the forewings representing 1b only; vein 1b simple. Forewings with a discal cell (the transverse vein very faint); vein 2 departing from the hind margin of the cell in its distal quarter to departing from the cell less than three-quarters of the distance from its base (from at least 2/3 out). Forewing vein 5 absent proximally to the faint transverse vein, 6 separate, 7 and 8 long-stalked with 8 very short to the costa, 9–11 separate from the cell.

Hindwings 9 veined; without a praecostal spur; with 2 anal veins; exhibiting vein 1a; the anal veins comprising 1a and 1b. Hindwings with a closed discal cell; the transverse vein incomplete to vestigial only (faint). The cell-derived hindwing veins 3+4 proximally joined (connate). Hindwing veins 2, 3 and 4 from one stalk, 5 separate and absent or vestigial proximal to the faint transverse vein, 8 separate and sharply curved along the costa.

Eggs, larvae, pupae. Eggs hemispherical (low dome-shaped); reticulate (reticulate-honecombed, lacunose). The larvae woodlouse-shaped; associated with ants in the later instars (with L. dispar attracting them via skin secretions, in the absence of the usual lycaenid honey gland), or having no known association with ants (L. phlaeas); shortly hairy; exposed feeders. On Rumex, and in the case of L. dispar having an association with ants.

Pupae smooth and rounded; plain; exposed, with no coccoon; not suspended, but attached at the tail and secured by a median girdle of silk.

British representation. 5 species (only one of which can now be seriously accounted ‘British’). Lycaena alciphron (Purple-shot Copper), Lycaena dispar (Large Copper), Lycaena hippothoë (Purple-edged Copper), Lycaena phlaeas (Small Copper), Lycaena tityrus (Sooty Copper), Lycaena virgaureae (Scarce Copper). The adults abroad May to August.

Status in Britain. Indigenous (L. phlaeas), or rare ocurrence representing occasional, genuine immigrants (L.tityrus, perhaps, on the basis of records from southern England for 1897 and 1958, and an undated record from Scotland!), or adventive (L. alciphron, a mainland-European species recorded from Suffolk in July 1886!), or formerly indigenous but now extinct (L. dispar, L. virgaureae and perhaps L. hippothoe). The splendid endemic British subspecies of L. dispar (see Curtis’s illustration), which formerly adorned the East Anglian, Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire fens, became extinct in the 1860s, no doubt consequent on drainage of its habitats. L. dispar was pathetically represented in Britain until about 1998 by a population of the continental ssp. batavus, introduced from the Netherlands in the mid-20th Century and artificially maintained with the wardens' assistance at the Woodwalton Fen nature reserve. Captive-bred stock was then moved to a Lincolnshire butterfly farm! L. virgaureae seems from early accounts to have resided in southern England until the mid 19th Century, and there are 18th Century records (not improbable?) of L. hippothoe from East Anglia.

Distribution. Northern Scotland, southern Scotland, northern England, English Midlands, East Anglia, Wales, southeast England, central southern England, southwest England, Isle of Wight, and Ireland. Frequenting open places. Habitats calcareous and non-calcareous.

Classification. Superfamily Papilionoidea. Lycaenidae.

Illustrations. • Lycaena dispar dispar (Large Copper, long extinct British sub-species): B. Ent. 12. • Lycaena dispar dispar (dissections: B. Ent. 12). • Lycaena dispar dispar: B. Ent. 12, legend+text. • Lycaena dispar dispar: B. Ent. 12, text cont.. • Lycaena phlaeas (Small Copper: Hübner/Curtis). • Lycaena phlaeas (Small Copper) and L. virgaureae (Scarce Copper): photos. • Lycaena hippothoe (Purple-edged Copper) and L. virgaureae (Scarce Copper): From Hübner, 1805.. • Lycaena virgaureae (Scarce Copper, long extinct in Britain): Stephens, 1828). • Lycaena alciphron (Purple-shot Copper): Hübner, 1805.. • Lycaena tityrus (Sooty Copper): Hübner, 1805.. • Larvae and pupae of L. phlaeas and L. virgaureae: Duponchel (1849). • Lycaena dispar (Large Copper) and L. phlaeas (Small Copper): eggs, larvae, pupae.

To view the illustrations with detailed captions, go to the interactive key. This also offers full and partial descriptions, diagnostic descriptions, differences and similarities between taxa, lists of taxa exhibiting or lacking specified attributes, and distributions of character states within any set of taxa.

Cite this publication as: ‘Watson, L., and Dallwitz, M.J. 2008 onwards. Insects of Britain and Ireland: butterflies. Version: 16th May 2016.’.