Violet Copper (Lycaena helle)

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

32790_male_Doubs_15Jun13 32900_male_Doubs_16Jun13 20466_male_Doubs_31May10 32796_male_Doubs_15Jun13

20481_female_Doubs_31May10 20508_female_Doubs_31May10 32903_male_Doubs_16Jun13


32757_female_Doubs_15Jun13 37632_female_Doubs_13Jun15    

A charming little copper of the wetlands. In France it only occurs in a few localities in the north-east, although it has been introduced, apparently successfully, in the central region of the Morvan. It also has localities in the Ariège in the Pyrénées, although these are under threat and currently subject to intense conservation efforts. It is tied strongly to its larval hostplant, Bistort (Polygonum bistorta), although often settling on nearby bushes at around 1½-2 metres off the ground, but then only in the immediate vicinity of the Bistort. At least, that is my experience based on several visits to one location where it was plentiful. It is quite a difficult species to photograph in its wetland habitat.


The male has a violet sheen across both wing surfaces, especially when fresh, while the female has the usual female copper pattern but laced with blue to produce an exquisite design almost rivalling the resplendence of the male. The flight period is from mid-May to early June and the males emerge about a week earlier than the females, as is generally true for all species.

At the key site that I have visited four times, on the second occasion in 2010 at the end of May, the males had mostly lost their violet sheen and were quite dull, the females being distinctly fresher. However, in 2013 at this same location, the males were still very fresh on 15 June as can be seen from 32790, but, strangely, the females were showing signs of wear. This seemed to be generally true, not just for one or two individuals. Quite why the lateness of the 2013 season should affect the flight periods in this way, I have no idea.

On 16 June I visited two other sites about 50km away and helle was flying at both, and again the males were very fresh. I had visited these sites previously, but not necessarily at the right time for helle, so it was a very pleasant surprise to find them there. This may even suggest that helle is more widespread in this region than was previously thought.

ref sex


alt. m
32790 M a fresh male, almost completely violet over the entire area of both wings, save for the marginal areas. Perhaps the most violet helle I have ever seen. 860
32900 M a fresh male, not quite as violet on the forewing as 32790 but with more blue on the hindwing. 32903 is the underside. 1150
20466 M

a fresh male, with the beautiful violet sheen almost intact.

32796 M a male, showing a very strongly metallic violet sheen. 860
20481 F

a female, reasonably fresh and showing the beautiful colouring of the female, just a few violet-blue markings in the post-discal regions of both wings.

20508 F

a female, slightly more worn than 20481, sitting on Bistort.

32903 M a male, the underside of 32900. 1150
32757 F a female underside. 860
20522 M?

I suspected this may be a female based on the lighter colouring, but the hindwing curvature suggests male.

37632 F a female, known for sure for having seen the upperside. 860