Purple copper butterfly
The purple copper butterfly, Paralucia spinifera (also known as the Bathurst copper butterfly) is only found in the Central Tablelands of NSW. It is one of Australia's rarest butterfly species. Its habitat is restricted to elevations above 900 m where it feeds exclusively on a form of blackthorn.
The butterfly's life cycle relies on a 'mutualistic' relationship with the ant Anonychomyrma itinerans, and on the presence of blackthorn, Bursaria spinosa subspecies lasiophylla.
After mating, the female lays her eggs on blackthorn bushes or adjacent debris near nests of the attendant ants. During the 14 to 17 days they take to hatch, the attendant ants constantly patrol the blackthorn. As the larvae hatch and mature, the attendant ants keep them underground in their nest during the day, shepherding them out at night to continue grazing on the blackthorn leaves. The ants' efforts are rewarded with a sugary honeydew from a gland on the larvae's backs.
When fully grown, the larvae return to the ants' nest to pupate from January until the butterflies emerge between August and November (later at high altitudes).
What do purple copper butterflies look like?
The purple copper is a small butterfly with a thick body and a wingspan of only 20-30 mm. The upper sides of its wings are black or deep brown with a bronze or green iridescence when they're sunning. The undersides of its wings are patterned with subtle brown, black, and grey. Its black antennae are dotted with white spots, and terminate with a black tip. Adult males fly rapidly at about one metre from the ground and rest in the sun with their wings parted. Females fly less rapidly and tend to stay closer to the host plant.
Adults usually fly on warm cloudless days in September, usually around the middle of the day (10 a.m. to 3 p.m.). Larvae can be found crawling up the blackthorn stems and feeding on the leaves from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. between November and January. They will be attended by between one and 15 ants.
What do they eat?
Conserving the purple copper and its habitat will require more information on the butterfly and a good deal of involvement from the local community. As the purple copper butterfly was first described by scientists only recently (1978), there are significant information gaps in the areas of population dynamics, habitat requirements, nature of the relationship with and ecology of the attendant ant, and fire ecology.
Community awareness and involvement is one of the key priorities in the purple copper butterfly recovery effort. The owners and managers of the butterfly's habitat are the first and most important community group - the informed support of habitat owners is the best protection most sites will achieve - but general community interest is also a vital element.
Page last updated: 15 April 2011