The largest copper on the continent, the great copper is identified by its size, coloration, and markings. The upperside general color is dark gray. Males have only 2 dark spots on the forewing, while females those two plus several more. The hindwing edge has a black border with a pale, orangish wash and a line of black dots inside it. Viewed from below, the wings are grayish white. Males and females both have similar patterns of several black dots and a reddish orange hindwing border. The gray copper’s underside black dots are not organized into lines, but although they seem random, the dot locations are pretty consistent within the species.
Caterpillars are green, rather short and sluglike, and covered with a fine, downy hair. A dark stripe may run down the back.
- The bronze copper (L. hyllus) forewing underside is orange, not grayish white. There are about 20 species of coppers on our continent. Most are smaller.
- Hairstreak butterflies have small, thin hindwing tails and ornate, thin bands on the outer half of the hindwings.
- Blues and azures are smaller and colored with blue.
Habitat and Conservation
Caterpillar host plants include various species of docks and sorrels (genus Rumex), including bitter dock (R. obtusifolius), and other members of the knotweed/buckwheat family.
Adults visit a wide range of flowers, including butterfly weed (a milkweed), Indian hemp (dogbane), and pale purple coneflower.
Locally abundant breeding resident in western Missouri.
The gray copper is sometimes considered a subspecies (ssp. dione) of the great copper (Lycaena xanthoides), a very similar butterfly that otherwise does not occur in Missouri. This is why it is sometimes called the great copper.
Apparently, the life cycle of this species is little known. A careful and dedicated observer in western Missouri could increase our knowledge about this pretty little butterfly.
The species name, Dione, is the name of a goddess in Greek mythology, said to be quite beautiful, and often associated with water.
Why is gray sometimes spelled with an “e” instead of an “a”? The spelling with “a” is more common in American English, and the spelling with “e” is more common in British and Canadian English. It’s the same situation with the spellings “color” and “colour.”