Orange butterfly with a lot of dark spots and darker hind wings. Active

Small Copper female. Photo: Ken Dolbear

A small but lively butterfly which has three broods in a year, though you are most likely to see it in late summer and early autumn.

Where to see

Habitat: Warm, well-drained sites are liked, which can be on heath or limestone or elsewhere. Look for rough wasteland, warm banks, old quarries and the like. Can be seen in gardens and on roadside verges.

Caterpillar foodplants: Sheep's Sorrel (main foodplant on heaths) and Common Sorrel (on chalk and limestone downs).

Best places: Fairly widespread as long as the caterpillar foodplant is present, but very intensively farmed areas are not suitable.

Distribution map

Explore the Atlas to see historical distribution trends for this species.

When to see

There is a smaller first brood out in April/May, followed by two (occasionally three) more broods which can produce sightings from July through to October.

Sightings by month (last 5 years)*:

Sightings this year*:

Browse the sightings archive.


Size: Small

If you just get a glimpse of an orange butterfly, you might think Small Tortoiseshell or Gatekeeper as well as Small Copper, but the Small Copper is decidedly smaller than the other two. Once it settles – and it likes to soak up the sun – it is unmistakable, though there are a lot of small variations. Although males and females are very similar, the female tends to be larger and has more rounded forewings compared to the slightly pointed shape of the male’s wings.

In the wild the adult butterflies often nectar on yellow flowers like ragwort, fleabane and buttercups. They seem to like gardens more later in the year (possibly there are just more of them around to be seen), when they find members of the Aster family including Michaelmas Daisies.

The male in particular is a lively, even aggressive, butterfly. It will adopt a perch from which it will take off to repel all comers, even if they are a lot larger.

Photo gallery

Tip: Click thumbnails to view full-size images.

*Note: The charts shown on this page are drawn only from casual sightings submitted to this website. Records from this website will be added to a lot more data collected throughout the year and used to compile the five-yearly Butterfly Atlases for Dorset and the UK.

Find more Small Copper related content, including news and photos.