Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Prospects for 2019

2019 is off to a promising start. Only one of 17 larvae hibernating in Savernake Forest were lost to (assumed) predation during the late November and December period, despite unusually mild weather and high tit numbers. The one that has vanished might have moved, as it was in an unusually warm spot.

Finger's crossed, but it looks as though bird predation may be relatively low this winter, as the blighters have other things to feed on. But the main danger period is late January to the end of February. Hopefully the weather will be cold, snowy and frosty then - and drive the tits out of the forest on to bird feeders in Marlborough, and protect the hibernating larvae.   

Here's are couple of larvae sleeping through the winter -

Meanwhile, I'm beavering away at my opus major His Imperial Majesty, a natural history of the Purple Emperor butterfly. I've got to finish it by the end of March. It's being published by Bloomsbury in May 2020. Watch this space...

Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Sallow Tree

Many thanks to Bill Seager of the Fermyn Light Horse for sending me a copy of the essay 'The Sallow Tree' by Nigel Wykes, from 'The pursuit of Moths and Butterflies' (1957, Ed. Patrick Matthews).

A great read and well worth tracking down.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Iris through the year, 2019

For those with less money and more taste, I've made a 2019 purple emperor hanging wall calendar with photographs taken in the wild in each month. This is April, for example:

All the other months and links to get your own copy can be found here:


Sunday, November 18, 2018

Ideal Christmas Present

Purple Butterfly Charm

This 18ct white gold, enamel & diamond pendant is A) foul and B) ridiculously expensive at £2150...  Get her oven gloves instead.

Here's the link 

Tuesday, November 13, 2018


Nearly all Emperor larvae have now left the sallow foliage and have wandered off into hibernation. They didn't have much choice as the leaves yellowed and started to fall fast.

Most larvae went into hibernation during the second week of November, which is usually peak week. Many have travelled fair distances in this (ridiculously) mild November. I've recorded one travel 2.5m before conking out, and watched another crawl 1m up stem, turn around and go back to within 1cm of where he started, and spin a hibernation foot pad there!

Here's No 73 wandering around looking for somewhere to conk out for five long months -

Here's No 62 conked out on the 3rd bud down, known as Suicide Ally (the position with highest tit predation) -

Here's No 20, conked out near a spray tip. Half of his body is on the leaf petiole which will become detached. When that happens he will simply realign himself to the main stem, as larvae hold on primarily by the rear claspers, but it is a daft thing to do -

What we need now is The Beast from the East to return, and drive the tit flocks out of the woods on to bird feeders in the towns. Larvae survival is much higher in cold, frosty, snowy weather. Bring it on!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Not a great fan of Halloween, but its a case of you can't beat them, join them. And then beat them!

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Into Hibernation

Purple Emperor larvae are now starting to enter hibernation (or diapause if you prefer). They have been changing colour and journeying off into hibernation somewhat earlier than normal, simply because they are ready. The foliage is also yellowing early, and they are in sync with it.  

The problem, for me, is that when the weather's warm they travel metres before conking out, rather than centimetres - which means they take ages to locate. Every late October I pray earnestly for miserable cold wet weather, to prevent them from wandering far - and every late October I get a heatwave. I feel like Job.    

Here are some larvae from last weekend (Savernake and Sussex):- 

This one is ready to hibernate, sitting in the curled leaf tip when moisture (fog in this case) gathers. They are often semi-aquatic like this.

This one was making exploratory journeys up-stem, before chickening out and returning to his withered (but silked on at the petiole) leaf.

This one is just starting to change colour, and has spun a massive silk highway all the way up the leaf midrib.

I still need to report on my trips to Holland and Catalonia, versus larvae. Holland was terrific: iris is seriously on the march there, colonising Salix cinerea carrs and fens. More anon.