Tuesday, 15 July 2014

All that glitters

With its sandy soil and patches of bare ground, the small area of scruffy meadow near to my office attracts a good number of butterflies at this time of the year. The common blues, meadow browns and various skippers are sometimes joined by the occasional small copper. The small coppers on the wing now are likely to be part of a second emergence, the first having been on the wing in May. If the coming weeks prove to be warm then there is the possibility of a third brood, which will take to the wing in September or October. It even appears that there might be four broods on the wing in exceptional years, though more records are needed to confirm this.

Small coppers are not the easiest of butterflies to photograph; always fidgeting, they seem reluctant to remain in one position, even moving around on a flowerhead when nectaring rather then sitting still. A good view of one will, however, reveal an orange and brown butterfly, the female slightly larger in size than the male and both sexes showing similar patterning to their upperwings. The species is colonial in its habits and colonies can be found across most of the UK. The males establish small territories, favouring warm and exposed perches from which to check out passing insects. If the insect a male has gone to investigate turns out to be a female small copper then he will pursue her with zeal.

One of the features of the small copper is the occurrence of unusual colour forms within parts of its UK breeding range. In the north of Scotland, for example, up to half of the adults present within a colony may show a series of blue spots on the hindwing, an aberration that is much less common further south. An even rarer aberration is the ‘albino’ form, in which the normal copper colour is replaced by white. Although I have seen images of this form, I have yet to see it in the wild.

This delightful little butterfly will be familiar enough to most readers, but if you have never taken the time to look at one closely then now is a good time to seek one out for yourself.

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