Purple-shot Copper (Lycaena alciphron)

next page          back to list

2023 photographs highlighted in green. Click on any photograph to go to an enlarged picture, or simply scroll down the page.

1241_male_Alpes-Maritimes_28May06 21764_male_Alpes-Maritimes_8Jul10 33067_male_Alpes-Maritimes_28Jun13 35887_male_Alpes-Maritimes_5Jul14
51544_male_Lozère_13Jul23 48343_female_Pyrénées-Orientales_12Jul21 35791_female_Alpes-Maritimes_30Jun14 35879_female_Alpes-Maritimes_5Jul14
1255_female_Alpes-Maritimes_28May06 46353_female_Hautes-Pyrénées_10Jul19 43871_male_Pyrénées-Orientales_06Jul17 25579_male_Alpes-Maritimes_09Jun11
51614_male_Lozère_14Jul23 51617_male_Lozère_14Jul23 51548_male_Lozère_13Jul23 51552_female_Lozère_13Jul23
26363_female_Alpes-Maritimes_06Jul11 2161_female_Isère_30Jun06    

This is a fabulously marked and rather large copper. It can appear like a small bright fritillary in flight, and is always a pleasure to see.


There are two subspecies in France, alciphron (the nominate form) and gordius (the southern subspecies). The alciphron male has a violet suffusion all over the upperside, giving the species its name. The female alciphron is basically dark brown with the usual female copper upf black markings in the cell and post-discal areas with distinctive uph orange marginal lunules. Females have a more curved shape of the hindwing base (as compared to the slightly square shape of the male - this seems true for most coppers).

The male gordius has less distinctive black marks, which are quite suffused purple especially on the upf, but without the overall purple sheen of alciphron.

The female gordius is very different to the nominate alciphron. It is quite large and bright, with a pattern much closer to the male but without the purple suffusion. It sometimes has blue centres to the uph submarginal black spots, just visible in the enlarged version of 1255.

The female underside has a very attractive orange unf and grey unh with an orange border. The male seems to have less orange on the unf, but the undersides of both sexes are quite variable as indicated in these photographs.

T&L says that gordius is the subspecies that occurs in the mountains and gives an altitude range of 800-2000m. I personally doubt this. Whilst it is without doubt the subspecies that occurs in the mountains, it also seems to be the predominant (or exclusive) subspecies across southern France, occurring at quite low altitudes. I have only seen alciphron in the area around Bordeaux (before I had a camera), but gordius in every other southern location and every image on this page is gordius.

ref sex


alt. m
1241 M

a male, with the black spots indistinct, and some quite suffused on the upf.

21764 M

a male, quite fresh and with more of a purple suffusion than 1241.

33067 M a male, nice and fresh and purple on the basal regions and forewing costa. 1000
35887 M a male, perhaps less purple than the norm. Note that it has a small nibble out of the hindwing which looks rather like a bite from a would-be predator. 33067 above also has the same sort of bite, so maybe this is a regular occurrence. 1000
51544 M this is a male, opening its wings while in copula. While it is gordius, the purple along the forewing costa is very bright. The underside shots in 51548 and 51552 are of the same pair. 1540
48343 F a fresh female, quite boldly marked. 1820
35791 F this was an unusually large female and it is missing almost the entire post-discal series of black marks, and, as such, is something of an aberration. 1050
35879 F by contrast with 35791 above, this is a rather more heavily marked female than the norm. 1000
1255 F

a female, generally quite lightly marked and with the uph black submarginal spots having blue centres.

46353 F probably a very typically marked female gordius in terms of the strength of the markings. 1700
43871 M the underside of a pristine male. 1820
25579 M a male, as clearly indicated by the hindwing shape and the territorial pose. 1000
51614 M a male, with the purple on the upf costa just visible. It is very similar to 51617 but is not the same. 1340
51617 M a male, very similar to 51614 but not the same. 1340
51548 M the same pair in copula as in 51544, this being the underside of the male. 1540
51552 F the same pair in copula as in 51544, this being the underside of the female, particularly orange. 1540
26363 F a beautifully fresh female, as indicted by the hindwing shape, the unf orange contrasting with the clean unh grey. 1000
2161 F

I think the extensive unf orange suggests a female, as does the curvature of the hindwing, although this is not entirely clear from the camera angle. It seems quite lightly marked on the unf and generally quite a strong orange feel to the whole underside.


It has been suggested by an expert that 2161 may well be a female Purple-edged Copper (L. hippothoe), presumably eurydame, on the basis of the light markings and that the unh post-discal spot in s6 is aligned with the others, whereas for others on this page this spot is clearly not aligned. Against that, the images for hippothoe show quite a wide variation in the alignment of this post-discal series with some showing the non-alignment and others being perfectly in line, so it appears that this feature is unreliable for hippothoe, but whether the same is true for alciphron is possible but not necessarily so; but in all of my photographs of alciphron this alignment holds true. However, the T&L image of female gordius shows the s6 spot as absent. It is also exceptionally orange, much more so than any other hippothoe I have ever seen (and I have seen hippothoe in a wide variety of locations), but this might just be geographical differences. The T&L image of female hippothoe shows only a light unf orange flush. Either the post-discal spots are highly unusual or the colour is; the consistency of other alciphron post-discal spots suggests that 2161 is not alciphron, but I leave it here in the (probably vain) hope that someone somewhere can shine more light on this.



1241_male_Alpes-Maritimes_28May06 - gordius


21764_male_Alpes-Maritimes_8Jul10 - gordius


33067_male_Alpes-Maritimes_28Jun13 - gordius


35887_male_Alpes-Maritimes_5Jul14 - gordius






35791_female_Alpes-Maritimes_30Jun14 - gordius


35879_female_Alpes-Maritimes_5Jul14 - gordius


1255_female_Alpes-Maritimes_28May06 - gordius






25579_male_Alpes-Maritimes_09Jun11 - gordius










26363_female_Alpes-Maritimes_06Jul11 - gordius


2161_female_Isère_30Jun06 - gordius