Eltham Copper Butterfly

Butterflies of Melbourne series

The Eltham Copper Butterfly, Paralucia pyrodiscus lucida, has aroused considerable attention for a number of reasons. These include its rediscovery after it was believed to be extinct, its main populations occurring in small bushland patches in the middle of suburbia and its complex interaction with a plant and an ant.

Eltham Copper Butterfly
Photographer: Alan Yen / Source: Museum Victoria


The Eltham Copper Butterfly is a small, attractive butterfly that flies in summer. It belongs to the family Lycaenidae and like many other species of lycaenids, it has a close association with a group of ants; in this case, ants from a genus called Notoncus.

The butterfly larvae live within the underground nests of Notoncus, and emerge at night to feed on their food plant, Sweet Bursaria (Bursaria spinosa). The ants protect the Eltham Copper larvae while they feed, and in return it is thought that the ants feed upon secretions from the butterfly larvae. As the Eltham Copper Butterfly larvae feed only upon Sweet Bursaria, this is an example of a complex plant-butterfly-ant ecological interaction.

Conservation status

The Eltham Copper Butterfly was discovered around Eltham in 1938. It was thought to have become extinct around the 1950s, but was rediscovered at Eltham in 1986. It is now known to survive in four areas: Eltham, Greensborough, Castlemaine and Kiata. The main populations are located in the three main reserves at Eltham.

It is now listed as a threatened species under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988. Its distribution was more widespread in the past. Numbers at the Eltham sites have declined because of loss of suitable habitat through urbanisation, and also the absence of an appropriate fire regime. Two of the reserves at Eltham were partially burnt in 1998 in order to improve the habitat for this species.

Further Reading

Braby, M. F., Van Praagh, B. D. and New, T. R. 1999. The Dull Copper, Paralucia pyrodiscus (Lycaenidae). In Kitching, R. L., Scheermeyer, E., Jones, R. E. and Pierce, N. E. (eds). Biology of Australian Butterflies. CSIRO, East Melbourne, pp. 247–260.

Webster, A .1993. Eltham Copper Butterfly, Paralucia pyrodiscus lucida. Flora and Fauna Guarantee Action Statement No. 39. Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, East Melbourne.

Comments (28)

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sarah 24 March, 2010 10:04
hi this is a really good source of information thankyou
Tayla 24 March, 2010 10:06
hey thanks for the info it really helped =)
rebecca 10 May, 2010 16:01
wat had happened to the population and where it is headed?
Discovery Centre 21 May, 2010 12:51

Hi Rebecca. The reason for the decline of the Eltham Copper Butterfly is explained above under the heading conservation. For further information about this and for what the future holds for this endangered animal, have a look at the links listed at top right under 'Related Resources'.

noriel powell 26 July, 2010 15:22
Hi, where can the Eltham Copper Butterfly be seen. Is there a museum/other somewhere around Eltham.
Asdfghjkl; 15 February, 2017 10:52
You can see them just around Eltham, you don't have to go to a museum
Discovery Centre 6 August, 2010 10:05

Hi Noriel, the Eltham Copper Butterfly can be seen flying during summer in a number of locations in Victoria such as Castlemaine, Kiata in western Victoria and around Melbourne in a number of small reserves around Eltham such as the Pauline Toner Butterfly Reserve in Eucalyptus Road. 

alan forsyth 6 December, 2010 16:51
Sighted 2 tiny Eltham Copper Butterflys in garden which is Rose and Cottage situated at Watsonia North (Greensborough).
Dorothy 29 December, 2010 21:18
I've spotted what I believe are Eltham Copper Butterflies in my garden at Newstead. Lovely! What are predators?
melanie 1 April, 2011 15:58
Eltham copper butterflies spotted in the hundreds (would you believe) on our property in Wattle Glen. Must be all the rain we have been having...its bought out the best in the Sweet Bursarias. Its magical to drive down our driveway with 20-30 of them fluttering in front of the windscreen.
Pat Vaughan 27 November, 2012 08:21
Hi melanie, I have only just seen this comment. I am the manager Environmental Services at Nillumbik Council and we are working hard to protect this species, so we would very much like to know where your property is and to see the location of the butterflies.
Teodora 18 May, 2011 14:53
Great Information. Thankyou
Lily 18 May, 2011 14:53
Love this butterfly, This helped me alot
Claudia!! 8 June, 2011 09:43
Eltham Copper Butterflys are very pretty! Thank you for this info dudes! LOLOL
rebbeca black 19 July, 2011 15:08
hey peps i no im famous on youtube but i would like to say....this is a great source of info bia <3
deb 5 October, 2011 14:01
We are so happy to currently have many Eltham Copper Butterflys feeding on our local paper daisies here in St Andrews. We have sweet bursia growing wild and the rest is magic!
Chay 27 February, 2012 15:19
We have also noticed the Eltham copper butterfly in our garden in Wattle Glen
Ali 24 November, 2012 14:33
Good source of info but one problem. Why isn't there the reasons of endangerment?
Brendan Ashby 16 May, 2013 11:41
Hi Ali, the threatening processes are laid out in the FFG action statement listed as a reference here. It is freely available at: http://www.dse.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0013/103216/039_Eltham_Copper_Butterfly_1993.pdf As with most endangered species, plant and animal, the primary contributing factor is habitat loss and fragmentation.
Claire 12 September, 2013 20:46
Today was beautiful and sunny so I sat in my parents backyard in Montmorency. A copper butterfly landed on me.
megan 27 May, 2014 19:33
this is a really good source of information it really helped me with my project
Peter 2 February, 2015 15:42
Woodend Landcare has included Bursaria spinosa in its plantings around the town for about a decade and many are now quite big and flowering. What are the chances that the ants and butterflies would find there way here and survive?
Jill Beaton 26 May, 2015 12:12
I would like to plant the host plant for these butterfly in Shelbourne 15k from Bendigo but wot chance Ants & Butterfly find them. They are already at Big Hill Primary School close to Bendigo.
Heather Simkin 3 June, 2015 10:16
I am a botanical artist. I have painted the sweet bursaria and would like to include an eltham copper in my painting. Is it possible to have access to the Museum's collection to paint a copper butterfly?
Discovery Centre 8 June, 2015 11:47
Hi Heather, we have emailed you directly about your request.
kristie worden 25 April, 2016 13:45
Is there any information about the current estimated population? I'd like to know if there is a certain number that the population would need to meet in order for the population to not be considered threatened?? perhaps it is based on space/ habitat? Thankyou
Discovery Centre 26 April, 2016 10:28
Hi Kathy, the museum is no longer actively involved in the counts that are undertaken for the Eltham Copper Butterfly. If you search online for the friends of the Eltham Copper Butterfly you should be able to make contact with this group who will have information on numbers. You could also go via the Nillumbik Shire Council. The management plan for this species will also give you some good information.
banna 15 March, 2017 12:42
great information really helped with the school project research.
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