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Butterflies - The Tribe Of The Coppers

( Originally Published 1917 )

The members of this tribe are well characterized by their name, for most of them show on the upper wing surface tones of coppery brown, more or less marked around the margin with darker shades. On the under side of the tarsi there are numerous spines in irregular clusters. In the chrysalis there are curious hair-like projections on the skin, which are short and shaped like tiny toadstools or mushrooms.

While some of the Coppers are very abundant, the majority are rather rare. Only a few species are sufficiently widely distributed to require description here.

The Wanderer

Feniseca tarquinius In many orders of insects there are whole families whose larvae are habitually carnivorous, feeding entirely upon other kinds of insects. This is especially so in case of the beetles, the flies, the true bugs, and the great order to which the bees and wasps belong. Among the scale-winged insects, however, carnivorous caterpillars are rare, seldom occurring among the moths and in hardly more than one species among the butterflies. This one exception is the modest looking little butterfly fancifully called the Wanderer, perhaps because instead of frequenting the flowery fields where other butterflies congregate it wanders in and out among the alders by brooks and ponds, alighting oftener upon a leaf or twig than upon a flower the latter apparently lacking for it the attraction it has for other butterflies.

If you watch one of these copper-hued creatures for awhile, however, you will soon see that its wandering is not aimless but has rather a method all its own. Perhaps you will see it alight upon an alder twig on or above which you are likely to notice curious woolly white excrescences. If you are close enough you will probably see the butterfly uncoil its tongue and sip up a liquid on twig or leaf the exudations of the woolly aphids that make up the supposed excrescence and suck the sap from the bark. Much of this sap passes through the bodies of the aphids and collects in liquid globules on twigs and leaves, forming a sort of honey-dew which is much sought after by flies, wasps, and other insects. It seems to form the chief sustenance of these Wanderers.

But many of these butterflies have another purpose besides that of sipping the honey-dew. Should you watch one of the mother butterflies carefully you would be likely to see her alight on or near a colony of woolly aphids and rim rather rapidly over them in a wasp-like manner, finally stopping long enough to lay a tiny, roundish, slightly flattened egg upon the twig, generally on the under side, and only one in a place. Then she may continue her way, wandering lazily along the alder-bordered stream.

Let us now centre our interest upon the egg. Three or four days later it hatches into a curious caterpillar. Instead of having mouth parts fitted for biting leaves as is the ease with most butterfly larvae, it has one fitted for grasping, piercing, and sucking the juices of the plump bodies of the aphids, which it finds hard by its place of birth. It also has silk spinnerets connected with its mouth, so it is able to spin a web to shelter it from being run over by its intended victims.

The newly hatched larva is not slow to take advantage of the facilities with which it is provided. It at once begins to spin a web above and around itself, from the and of which it reaches out for the nearest aphids, sucking their life blood and casting their empty skins to the discard of its protecting web. The skins thus serve as an additional shelter so that, as the caterpillar moves forward, increasing the number of its victims from day to day, it extends its web and the protection of the cast skins intermingled with it, while through all the cast skins, the silken web, and even the hairs on the body of the caterpillar there runs a woof of the woolly excretion effectually concealing the larva from sight.

The woolly aphids thus serve as the sole food of the caterpillar during its brief life as a larva. Perhaps because of the pre-digested nature of its food, it is able to mature much sooner than most butterfly larvae. In about eleven days after hatching it is ready to change to a chrysalis, having undergone during this period only three moults, instead of at least four as with other caterpillars. Each caterpillar then changes to a chrysalis which is remarkable because the form and color of its back bears a striking resemblance to the face of a miniature monkey. It remains in this condition nearly a fortnight and then emerges as a butterfly.

In New England and the Northern states the short life of the larva enables this insect to mature three broods each season. Farther south there are probably more, for this species is widely distributed in eastern North America, occurring from Nova Scotia to Georgia and west to the Mississippi Valley.

The American Copper

Heodes hypophlaeas

This little butterfly is one of the most generally abundant insects in the northern part of North America. It commonly occurs from ocean to ocean, from the Hudson Bay region to the latitude of Georgia, and it flies freely in city parks and village yards as well in the more open spaces of field and forest. When seen through a lens it is very beautifully colored, the coppery red of the wings being overspread with conspicuous black dots and a touch of orange around the outer border. The expanded wings measure just about an inch, so that this is one of the smallest of our common butterflies.

The caterpillars of the American Copper feed upon sorrel, one of the commonest weedy plants of waste places everywhere. The rusty red blossoms of the sorrel harmonize in color with the color of the butterfly, which is frequently to be seen flying slowly above the plants, stop-ping now and then to lay its eggs singly upon the leaves or stems. Each egg soon hatches into a curious caterpillar, which looks more like a slug than the usual type of butterfly larva. It feeds upon the succulent tissue of the sorrel leaf, at first biting small holes in the under surface. As it gets larger it feeds more freely and is likely to make channels instead of holes. It matures in about three weeks, changing into a chrysalis under the shelter of a stone or board. A little later it again changes to a butterfly.

There is an interesting variation in the number of broods of this butterfly each season. In regions where it has been studied it has been found to be double-brooded in northern New England and triple-brooded in southern New England and the Atlantic states. It is probable that in its far northern home in the Hudson Bay territory it is only single-brooded. It is thought that the insect hibernates as a chrysalis.

These little butterflies are so small and fly so near the ground that they are likely to be overlooked by the casual observer. They frequently alight to sun themselves or to sip nectar from many kinds of flowers. They begin their day's work early in the morning and continue well into the evening. Then they find a roosting-place, head downward upon a blade of grass, where they sleep until wakened by the morning sunshine.

The Bronze Copper

Chrysophanus thoe

This butterfly is nearly twice as large as the American Copper to which the female of the present species bears a striking resemblance. The Bronze Copper is a rare species, occurring from New England nearly to the Rocky Mountains. The slug-shaped yellowish green caterpillar feeds upon dock and related plants.

Synopsis of the Coppers

The Wanderer (Feniseca tarquinius). Wing expanse 1 1/4 inches. Upper wing surface tawny brown, each wing more or less marked with dark brown spots, the distinction between the colors being clear-cut, and the lines between having an angular effect. Lower surface of front wings similar in colors to upper with dark spots rectangular Under surface of hind wings mottled with irregular spots of pale brown.

American Copper (Heodes hypophlaeas or Chrysophanus hypophlaeas). Wing expanse 1 inch. Upper surface of front wings tawny orange with margins and rectangular spots blackish. Upper surface of hind wings coppery red with a tawny orange band on outer margin. Lower surface of front wings much like upper surface, that of hind wings grayish marked with dark spots and an orange line near the margin.

Bronze Copper (Chrysophanus thoe). Wing expanse 11/2 inches.Male. Upper wing surface coppery brown marked with dark spots and a tawny orange sub-marginal band along outer margin of hind wings. Under surface of front wings lighter orange with blackish spots and of hind wings grayish with blackish spots and an orange sub-marginal band. Female. Upper surface of front wings tawny orange with blackish spots.

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