British Wildlife Wiki

This butterfly belongs to the Nymphalidae family

The Bionoial name of this butterfly is called Apatura iris

Introduction To The Butterfly[]

The magnificent Purple Emperor is probably the British butterfly most admired and most sought after by butterfly watchers, breeders, photographers and general naturalists alike. There are more stories told, and more myths about this species than any other. It is the second-largest species in Britain ( the largest being the Swallowtail ), measuring up to 85mm across the wings. The deep purplish-blue sheen on the wings of the male is produced structurally, as light is refracted by ridges on the wing scales, and is only visible from certain angles, and under certain lighting conditions. Wishful thinking often leads less experienced butterfly watchers to mistake the White Admiral for this species. Both species are dark with white banding, both fly around oaks, and fly at the same time of year. The White Admiral however is smaller, far more graceful and delicate in flight, has much more rounded wings, and lacks the purple sheen. In Europe the Purple Emperor can be confused with it's slightly smaller relative Apatura ilia, but that species has an orange-ringed black spot near the outer margin of the upperside forewing, and a narrower S-shaped white band on the hindwing. The Purple Emperor is distributed throughout much of central Europe but is localised and scarce in southern France, Spain and Portugal. It is absent from Scandinavia, peninsula Italy and the Mediterranean islands. Beyond Europe it's range extends across temperate Asia from the Baltic states to north-east China and Korea.

Habitat Of This Butterfly[]

In Britain the butterfly occurs as a breeding species in almost all of the larger woodlands in central southern England, where the larval foodplant Salix grows along the edges of tracks. The Purple Emperor formerly occurred over much of Wales and southern England but it is now local and largely confined to Wiltshire, Hampshire, West Sussex and Surrey where it occurs as a breeding species in almost all of the larger woodland complexes. A handful of small and isolated colonies also occur in Hertfordshire, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Somerset, Northamptonshire and Devon. Most colonies are small, typically comprising of less than 25 adults at peak season. Individuals have a range that probably encompasses several hectares, and can comprise of a large and intact forest, or a group of small woods linked by hedgerows. Both sexes can be seen at least a kilometre away from the egg-laying sites, assembling at so-called master trees, of which there may be several in a large woodland complex. The master trees are usually mature oaks, but beeches, poplars and conifers can also be used. In each case the trees will be tall specimens, usually located on high ground, typically on the brow of a hill. At these master trees the males indulge in spectacular "sorties", competing for the best vantage points. Groups of up to 7 can sometimes be seen chasing in circles around the tree tops. Females are seen less often. They visit the master trees to find mates, and thereafter disperse to the egg-laying sites, which are often on north facing woodland edges, or in semi-shaded and low-lying areas of the wood where there are high densities of sallow.

Life Cycle Of This Butterfly[]

The conspicuous domed eggs are laid singly on the upperside of sallow leaves. Broad-leaved sallow Salix caprea is used more frequently than the narrow-leaved S. cinerea.

In July 2005 I watched a female which in the course of 3 or 4 minutes laid about 10 eggs at various heights between 2 and 5 metres on broad-leaved and narrow-leaved sallows growing on both sides of a track in a Wiltshire wood. The eggs were laid on semi-shaded leaves in the interior of the trees. At other sites in Hampshire and Surrey I have watched females ovipositing on low, sunlit leaves on woodland edge sallows; and at a thicket in north-east Hampshire I have seen a female oviposit at eye-level on a totally shaded broad-leaved sallow.

When first laid the eggs are entirely green, but after about 5 days they develop a dark purplish band near the base. They hatch after about 14 days, and the newly hatched larva makes it's first meal of the eggshell.

The young caterpillar is greyish-brown, and after it's first moult has 2 prominent horns on it's head. It feeds until October, entering hibernation in the 2nd or 3rd instar. It spends the winter in a vertical posture, resting on a silk pad spun on the upperside of a withered sallow leaf, or in the fork of a twig, usually on the damper and shadier north or east facing side of the tree.

It resumes feeding in April, and when fully grown in mid-June is plump and green, marked along the sides with dark-edged diagonal cream stripes that perfectly simulate the veins of a leaf. Two "horns" project forward from the head, and the body is strongly tapered at the tail. It is quite unlike that of any other British butterfly or moth.

The caterpillar rests during daylight along the midrib on the upper surface of a leaf, and feeds on the tissue either side, leaving the midrib and leaf tip intact. At dusk it vacates it's resting place, and wanders all over the tree to feed. It lays an almost invisible trail of fine silk along it's route, and uses this as a map to return to it's "home" leaf before dawn. The pupa, which wriggles frantically if touched, is a very beautiful shade of translucent silvery green, marked on the abdomen with short whitish diagonal dashes. It is slightly flattened in shape. The camouflage is so perfect that it is virtually impossible to locate, as it hangs suspended by the cremaster from a sallow leaf. The pupal stage lasts for about 14 days.&nbsp

Adult Behaviour Of This Butterfly

&nbsp The butterflies emerge in late June and early July.&nbsp Although fairly widespread in central southern England, the Purple Emperor occurs at low densities and is rarely seen unless deliberately searched for, although males have often been observed entering houses, shops or parked vehicles ! Purple Emperors spend most of their time resting high in trees, the males favouring oaks while the females more often rest in tall sallows. Females in particular may spend an hour or more on their tree-top perches, especially if the weather is cloudy or breezy. When the sun appears, even if only for a brief period, the males take flight and circle around the vicinity in search of food sources. &nbsp Both sexes will feed at honey dew ( aphid secretions ) where it coats the upper surface of sallow or oak leaves. Males often also feed at sap runs, or at carrion, but are most frequently encountered when feeding at fox scats or dog faeces from which they obtain essential alkaloids which are passed to females during copulation. &nbsp Neither sex visit flowers for nectar, although I once found a newly emerged female sitting with her wings fully outspread on a fleabane flower in a Surrey wood. Females also sometimes settle to imbibe moisture from forest tracks between bouts of egg-laying, but do not visit carrion or dung.

Mud-puddling and dung-feeding activity typically begins at about 8.30am on warm sunny mornings, or later if it is cooler or slightly overcast, and can continue until 12.30pm or later. Sometimes a male will spend an hour or more on the ground without moving. Further puddling sometimes occurs in the late afternoon at about 6.00 - 7.00pm if it remains sunny. &nbsp In the early afternoon both sexes fly to the highest point in the forest - the "master tree", typically a tall oak. As many as 6 or 7 may gather there on any particular day. Males usually arrive first, and soon begin to chase each other around in circles, competing to obtain the best perching place or "throne" - a prominent clump of leaves on which they sit to await the arrival of the females.&nbsp When a female appears the dominant male charges after her, followed by any other males at the tree, and the butterflies fly in a string, one behind the other, following the female as she flits and glides around the upper branches. The strongest and most aggressive male eventually chases off his lesser rivals, and then follows the female until she settles on a sunlit clump of leaves, often half a kilometre or more distant from the master tree. Copulation takes place there in early-mid afternoon. The mating pair spend most of the remaining afternoon sitting on their love nest, but sometimes fly in tandem from one branch to another, or more rarely descend to ground level. In July 1986 for example, while watching a mud-puddling male in a Surrey wood, I saw a copulated pair float down from an oak, and settle on gravel. When I approached, they flew up into another tall oak, settling near the top of the tree. On another occasion a friend spotted a copulating pair late in the afternoon, at a height of about 6 metres in a spruce. The pair were still copulating at 7.00pm, when I had to leave, and I suspect that they remained joined until dusk, or possibly until the following morning. &nbsp In some years, prolonged periods of dull or rainy weather occur during the flight season. Then, when the sun does briefly appear, a frenzy of courtship, mating and egg-laying takes place. The butterflies seem able to make the most of very limited opportunities, e.g. weather conditions throughout the 2007 flight season in the UK were cool, overcast and often wet, with precious little time for mate location or egg laying.