Every third year there is an open day at the Big Sand Dunes Nature Preserve along the Mississippi River near Muscatine, Iowa. We look forward to this field day because it is a rare habitat protected by two large companies.
This year among the lovely species we photographed was a large population of American Copper butterflies (Lycaena phlaeas americana). They flitted through the prairie and over the sand dunes like sparkly orange and black sequins. Some writers describe what we called bright orange as “bright iridescent red”. The border of the forewing is also described as dark brown. Our cameras recorded them as almost black.
With wingspans of 1 to 1.3 inches (3-3.5 cm) are sometimes spread when perched. We watched for those who were sunning in the grass. Sometimes they fold their wings above their bodies and are camouflaged by the gray speckled appearance of the hind underwings. The light seemed to come through the forewing of the one just above.
Males, in particular, are active butterflies darting from their perches in hopes that the passing insects are females. Some of them stopped long enough to compose interesting images. They may be found all summer as there are multiple hatches into the fall.
Some writers think that the American Copper may have been introduced from Europe because females lay their eggs on plants that were introduced early in settlement. The American Copper is similar to a European species. It is a bit smaller than other North American Copper species.
Whatever its origins, it is a beautiful small butterfly that provides delight in home garden or prairie expanse. It certainly was a pleasure for all those attending the field day. Now we have to wait until 2018 for the next field day on this special habitat. The preserve changes over time and those who attend are eager to see the next chapter in its story.