Friday, July 20, 2018

Next Season

Rather too dull for Emperor activity at Knepp today, so I went egging instead.

One alpha sallow produced two early-second instar (horned) larvae, a skin-changing first instar larva, a just-hatched larva, two about-to-hatch eggs and a classic yellow-brown egg, and an egg case base with no sign of the larva. Total = 8.

I think I last found horned larvae in July back in 1976 but will check my diaries when I get home. Whatever, eggs are obviously hatching very fast in this heat and larvae are then racing through the highly vulnerable first instar, which is all good news. The bad news, though, is that no rain has shown up, and the sallows desperately need some. 

For the record, four dog walkers went past me whilst I was up my sallow. None noticed a bloke 4-5m up a tree...

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Knepp: Day 35

Purple Emperors have now been out here for five long weeks. 

Today, I managed to see 19, which would be a decent tally for a day at peak season at nearly all Emperor sites...

They are becoming increasingly localised, and the males are only active for two or three hours during the early to mid- afternoon period. The females are either egging or sitting around doing nothing.  

I think they'll peter out here on about Monday. Meanwhile, we carry on fighting...

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Apatura: Green Light for Full Genome Sequencing

Exciting news received today, confirming that funds and facilities are all in place for the full genome sequencing of the first Apatura species (A.ilia). This will be conducted in conjunction with Professor Chris Jiggins (University of Cambridge) and Dr Richard Durbin (Wellcome Sanger Institute). The data will most likely appear on the Butterfly Genome Browser which Chris setup for his Heliconius project. Link as follows:

No further information is available at present, only that we've got the green light and that the relevant breeding (from 2 differing parental strains) is currently in progress. As soon as the F1 adults emerge I can start to submit the specimens for sequencing. I'll update you all as/when further information becomes available.


Knepp: Day 34

Back at Knepp this afternoon, following a couple of days 'off', at home. I saw ten Emperors, or rather eight Emperors and two Empresses. 

At this late stage in their flight season they are active for only about three hours each afternoon, from about 1pm, and it was cloudy between 2pm and 3pm today. 

At one point I saw a chase of three males, but mostly it was a matter of spotting OAP males active in known territories. Then I visited a 'feeder tree' where two females were imbibing oak sap - 

Then, after being disturbed by a hornet, one female went an sat in a sallow bush, sulking -

The butterfly will have been out here for six weeks come Friday, which is quite impressive. There should be a few left that day, but I suspect I'll see the last of the Knepp 2018 Purple Emperors on Sunday or Monday.

Knepp: A look back to a stunning day

Knepp, Wednesday 27th June: Eleven hours walking goodness knows how many exhausting miles at the site during a heatwave. Three litres of water barely touched the sides. At the end of it all, the traditional lemonade from the fridge in the Go-Down was nectar. 

Emperors aside, the sheer abundance of life at Knepp blows my mind. I hope other farmers follow the example of Charlie and Isabella. But we were here for iris, and hoping for lots of them. Last year Nick and I doubted our own count of 96 - surely not - so this year we brought with us a pair of clicker-counters of the sort favoured by bouncers. It seemed appropriate, given the thuggish nature of our quarry. 

After the sort of heady day that causes you to question your senses, our counters displayed the number 349, a count that has now been exceeded by Matthew and Neil, who were pushing 400. Madness.   

Towards the end of our day a big, multi-storey oak near Camilla Corner gave us an unforgettable experience when, for a bizarrely brief window, it played host to a spectacular congregation of emperors. We'd never seen anything like this, even at Knepp. 

A zig-zagging male told us the tree was a feeder; if Matthew hadn't taught me the sapping flight of emperors a week before, we’d have moved on and missed the wonders that followed. We soon found him (the emperor, not Matthew) low down on a visible sap bleed - a wound oozing white froth. 

The branch and others around it soon transformed into Your Favourite Local Bar. Our male was joined by a quercus, four or five hornets and a procession of emperors. Various individual iris came and went while others spiralled and occasionally squabbled half-heartedly at all heights around the tree, while we became giddy with numbers as we tried to count the traffic. 

At times there were three or four sapping, at times five or six, and, briefly, a magnificent seven. The humans below laughed in disbelief, knowing we were sharing something special. There were never more than three emperors within wing distance of one another, but different groups of two or three and the odd loner were like punters at their beer. A much larger emperor blundered into the midst of a sapping group but was hassled immediately and quickly vanished. An empress, we guessed. 

Happily, we bumped into a couple of chaps at the tree, and one of them was a photographer. It is his photographs you see here; thanks Ben Richardson for sending them to me. 

In the early evening of that wonderful day, gangs of hooligan purple hairstreaks were harrying emperors who clearly just wanted a rest - especially adjacent to Hammer pond, where the big oaks were lit up like cathedrals, bathed in golden evening light. 

Looking back, we should have known the day would be a special one when we stumbled upon a 'streak on the ground by Hammer Pond at nine am. Later in the day, a young grass snake crossed a path under our feet. Minutes later a hobby shot directly over our heads like a missile. 

And we saw huge numbers of damsels and dragons, surely an early sign that the day would be a fairy tale. 

Emperor by Ben Richardson

Just the five sap-feeding emperors by Ben Richardson in this shot. For the original size image, contact me via comments. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018


Those of us who were around during the long hot summer of 1976 will remember the impact of the great drought on sallow trees, when even in shady woods on heavy clay soils sallows died off willy-nilly.  

The current drought is not a patch on that of 1976, but most places in The Empire seriously need some watering - and no rain is forecast for the foreseeable future. Some districts enjoyed a useful watering last Friday evening (the 13th) - Alice Holt, for example, had 8mm (1/3rd of an inch) - but Knepp missed out (the rain ran just to the north).  

The sub-canopy leaves which the egg-laying females favour are often the first leaves to drop. Here's what to look out for - 

So, take your watering can with you.

I've just had two days off, of necessity, having Emperored for 28 consecutive days (beating Heslop's 1969 record). I'm now going back to Knepp, for the grand finale. I've seen over 2000 day-individuals there so far this season. In contrast, in 1976 I saw 257...

Monday, July 16, 2018

Phil Gilbert

Sorry; I should have mentioned that Phil Gilbert of East Midlands section took me there and made most of the sightings