Peter Bowditch's Web Site

Book review

The Purple Copper's Secret
by Christine Bailey

The Purple Copper butterfly is almost an Oberon Local. Here is what the NSW Department of the Environment has to say about it:

The purple copper butterfly (Paralucia spinifera) is one of Australia's rarest butterfly species. It is also known as the Bathurst copper butterfly.

The purple copper butterfly is a small butterfly with a thick body, and a wingspan of only 20−30 millimetres. The upper sides of its wings are black or deep brown, with a copper, green or purple 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 have a black tip.

This species is only found in the Central Tablelands of New South Wales. It is restricted to elevations above 850 metres in open woodland where a type of blackthorn (Bursaria spinosa subsp. lasiophylla) that grows at higher altitudes is found. The larvae of the species feed only on this type of blackthorn.

This book is notable for two reasons. The first is that it is actually three books in one, because each page has text suitable for very young children, people with a little more education, and an explanation for adults. Each of these pages is accompanied by artwork by the author to illustrate the text. There are also illustrations showing the size of objects by comparison with coins.

Author Christine Bailey
The second reason is that the book tells they story of the amazing symbiotic relationship between a single species of ants (Anonychomyrma itinerans), a single plant and the butterflies.

The ants act as caretakers and protectors of the butterflies from the eggs right up until the adult insects emerge and expand and dry their wings. Normally, ants would be seen as predators of the eggs and undeveloped insects but in this partnership they actually protect the butterflies from other predators like mantises and birds by keeping everything underground except when the caterpillars are let out at times when the risk of predation is low.

As well as introducing readers to an important and somewhat endangered local butterfly, this book provides a wonderful story about an unexpected cooperation between different animals with distinct and different life styles and cycles.

The book is highly recommended, and is available from the National Parks and Wildlife Service's offices

A version of this review was published on the Oberon Matters web site on February 1, 2024.

Copyright © 1998- Peter Bowditch

Logos and trademarks belong to whoever owns them