Mining for Coppers in Utah

A newly minted male Ruddy Copper [2015 JUL 11, Jeremy Ranch, UT, photo by REB]

A newly minted male Ruddy Copper [2015 JUL 11, Jeremy Ranch, UT, photo by REB]

I spent the first full week of July in Utah birding, butterflying, and botanizing.  I’d almost canceled my planned trip a week before I left — the Salt Lake area, where I would be based, was suffering under an extended drought and severe heat wave, with temps rising to 110F during the day.  But I stuck with the plan, especially as I’d be spending more time in the Wasatch and Uintas than in the desert.  It was a good decision, although the opposite weather situation confronted me when I arrived:  daily monsoonal rains and below-average temps, especially in the mountain meadows where I had planned to spend a good bit of my time.

I typically got in about an hour or two each morning, after the high ranges had warmed up sufficiently for butterflies to be out, but before the daily storm parked itself on top of the mountain for the rest of the afternoon.  Short as the time was, Utah yielded some very special butterflies.

The target for my trip was the abundance of coppers that Utah is justly famous for.  Yes, I know, the mountain west also has a ton of tricky fritillaries, but I figured I’d experience one ID challenge at a time!

The first thing you have to now about Utah coppers is that some of the aren’t, well, copper at all.  Like the Blue Copper, which was flying in most of the meadows at high elevations where its food plant, buckwheat, was in full bloom.  The male is distinctive:  It is, as its name indicates, bright blue.  So blue in fact that on a previous trip to Colorado I misidentified this puppy as one of the blues until a kind colleague out west corrected me.  The female is a more of a challenge, helped out in this case by watching which of the various coppers in the meadow at Guardsman Pass the male Blue Coppers were chasing.

The bright blue wings and black-etched veins of the male Blue Copper are distinctive.

The bright blue wings and black-etched veins of the male Blue Copper are distinctive.

A female Blue Copper, with  just a hint of the blue for which the male is famous [2015 JUL 10, UT-Summit Co, photo by REB]

A female Blue Copper, with just a hint of the blue for which the male is famous [2015 JUL 10, UT-Summit Co, photo by REB]

Other coppers were more typically copper-ish.  Like the most common copper flying in the Wasatch and Uintas right now, Purplish Copper.  You really need to see these butterflies in person in the sunlight to get the full impact of why their called “Purplish” — they have an amazing sheen, or at least the one that I saw in full sunlight over five days did!

Purplish Copper.  Males were battling it out over this open spot where deer had crushed the plants [2015 JUL 9, UT-Alpine Loop, photo by REB]

Purplish Copper. Males were battling it out over this open spot where deer had crushed the plants [2015 JUL 9, UT-Alpine Loop, photo by REB]

And I kept trying to make some of the coppers into blues again.  Take this one, for example.  From the ventral aspect — all I saw for most of a blustery morning above treeline — it looks for all the world like many of the heavily spotted blues in the Rockies.  But a good look at the top side, once the flowers stopped swaying so much in the stiff breeze, showed its family resemblance to the rest of the coppers in the area.

From the bottom, Edith's Copper looks more like one of the heavily spotted western blues [2015 JUL 6, along Mirror Lake Road in Utah, photo by REB]

From the bottom, Edith’s Copper looks more like one of the heavily spotted western blues [2015 JUL 6, along Mirror Lake Road in Utah, photo by REB]

The dorsal view of Edith's Copper confirms its close connection to other coppers [2015 JUL 6, Mirror Lake Road, UT, photo by REB]

The dorsal view of Edith’s Copper confirms its close connection to other coppers [2015 JUL 6, Mirror Lake Road, UT, photo by REB]

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