Saturday, June 30, 2012


Photographed by Sir Charles Burrell Bt near Chernobyl.  Charlie owns Knepp Castle estate in West Sussex, which under his inspired management is rapidly developing into a superb area for iris and betulae.  He uses dead snakes as baits.

Also, iris wasn't out today in Alice Holt Forest, Hants.  I checked the most popular territories, but I did see camilla in cop for only the second time ever (presumably blown out of the trees) -

Friday, June 29, 2012

Iris on the Wing!

Ladies, Gentlemen.

We are pleased to announce that at 2.55pm today our esteemed friend and colleague Mr Ken Willmott saw the first iris of the year, a male at the renowned Hill House Farm territory at Bookham Common (NT), Surrey.  None was seen there yesterday (though Ken saw a nice camilla ab obliterae there yesterday and today). 

This almost certainly does not herald a mass emergence, for Bookham is an 'early' site for iris.  As suggested on this blog a while back, it is likely that some larvae in the warm south east pupated at the end of the hot spell at the end of May.  Yesterday's mini heat wave obviously brought one or two adults out. 

There should be a few males out at other 'early' sites in the south east on Sunday but I suspect no mass emergence will commence for a week, unless the weather radically improves.

Above all, iris is unlikely to appear in numbers anywhere in the UK this season, so let's make it a year of quality rather than quantity.  Enjoy!

You can keep up to speed with Purple affairs this season by following me on Twitter on @NTMatthewOates

Here we go

Iris and ilia both on the wing today in western Switzerland

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Today, in warm sunny weather Ken Willmott searched hard for the first males at the two long-established territories at Bookham Common whilst I searched the main Alice Holt territory.  None seen.  Moreover, I found White Admiral only just starting, though Ken found it a bit better out at Bookham - this is significant as iris almost invariably starts to appear only when camilla is well out.   I left feeling that iris wont start in Alice Holt before Monday at the earliest.

However, Ken has heard of a possible record of one at Ruislip, Middx, yesterday - a poor, dull day.  Can someone please verify this please?

Meanwhile, Mr Hulme and I have acquired a large and extremely dodgy supply of Viagra, which we will dilute down and spray as a bait when the season actually begins.  It may even attract Women...

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Relative Activity

Apatura ilia form clytie being unusually co-operative on Sunday near to Sofia Airport.

Best wishes to everyone for the upcoming flight season.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Is this a bad omen for the season?

As I have said before there is class of sailing boat on the Norfolk Broads called a Yare & Bure One Design and locally known as a white boat and most of them are named after butterflies or moths. This weekend was Barton White Boat Weekend and conditions were a bit rough... A friend owns Purple Emperor but there is a newer one no 124 called Iris.... Here is a sequence of photos of Iris joining the submarine club I just hope this isn't an omen for the season when it starts Liz

Friday, June 22, 2012

Delayed Start

My 7 captive larvae were well in tune with their wild cousins in N Wilts.  All have now pupated, the last individual midweek.  I believe that the butterfly wont emerge in N Wilts before 6th July at the very earliest, and then only if the onset of Wimbledon fortnight brings a massive anticyclone (which seems most unlikely).  However, some individuals may have pupated considerably earlier in the warmer climes of West Sussex and Surrey, during the nine day hot spell at the end of May - in which case a few adults may appear there at the end of June.  Generally, the butterfly may not emerge before 10th July - later if this cool, wet and utterly foul & abusive weather continues.  It can get stuck for four weeks in the pupal stage if the weather is cool and wet.  We may even have a repeat of the dreadful 1977 season, when the Queen's Silver Jubilee June rains and a poor July ensured that the butterfly didn't begin to emerge before the fourth week of July, and lasted into September!  The prospects for the 2012 iris season were never good, and are deteriorating...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


One pupated today, 20th June, which points to an emergence around 10th July. Another is on the underside and will pupate very shortly. Today, I took the third mature larva to Finemere Wood and released him onto a nice shady, big, Sallow where he will be very content. The fourth, namely, the 'runt' of the litter is eating and growing and about 2 weeks behind the other three: I'm looking forward, mirabile dictu, to an August iris. More evidence of the lateness of this season: the first pruni in this 'pruni rich' county of Bucks, was not seen until 17th June [two weeks later than usual] Dennis

Monday, June 18, 2012

Last supper

Here is a photo of Aurelian yesterday, on the 21st day of his fifth instar:

When I checked on him today he had finally vacated this leaf - his sole home since his last skin change - and, I hope, gone off to pupate somewhere. I will search for his pupa at the end of the week, when it should be easier to spot than a caterpillar on the back of a leaf.

Before leaving he consumed a considerable amount of his seat leaf, including much of the silk he had been using to stick his rear end to the leaf:

Assuming he is now laying himself up for pupation, that was his last supper - ever. Once the process begins he will take no more solid food for the rest of his life. What is in his tummy now has to sustain two to three weeks of pupation followed by two to three weeks of dog-fights and sex, supplemented only by a few vitamins and minerals from fox and beech marten excrement.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Immediate ilia pupae exchange…Anyone Interested?

Following on from Dennis’ recent “LATE IRIS” post, I subsequently write to enquire if there are any seasoned bloggers reading here who currently has any ilia pupae and/or larvae in culture and would potentially be interested in an immediate specimen exchange? In order to clarify, I currently have an ilia specimen (which from examination I estimate to be female) which pupated on Sunday the 3rd of June and assuming that it follows it natural course, having been kept in my culture greenhouse is subsequently expected to eclose around/after Sunday 17th June. Apart from having 2 later ilia larvae still in culture, the most mature (male) specimen of which is expected to pupate in around 7 days time, whilst the third (still too early to sex) larvae is due to pupate about a week after that, I am actually due to fly out to Turkey this coming Friday morning (15th June), so will unfortunately be unable to watch over and/or adequately care, for any adults that might (or then again, might not) eclose during my 10 day absence. Not really wanting to take the risk, I consequently wondered (considering the high degree of larvae developmental variance this year) if anyone (seasoned bloggers only please) would be interested in exchanging an ‘early’ (expected female) ilia pupae (due to eclose around/after Sunday 17th June), for an ideally male ilia pupae who’s eclosion is likely to coincide with either of my ‘later’ ilia specimens…currently in their late and early 5th instars respectively? If so, please can you drop me an immediate email, as I would need to post the pupae out to you tomorrow and we will of course need to iron out any details before that! I must however apologize for the online photo-grab (attached). My camera is not set up for macro work, so I eventually gave up (after many, many attempts) trying to obtain a focused shot of my actual pupae! I look forward to hearing from you....

Sunday, June 10, 2012

State of Play...

This weekend I checked 3 wild larvae in & around Savernake Forest, N Wilts (I found an extra one that was last seen in November - Lord knows where it had hibernated as I looked for it three times during the winter).  All 3 were mid way through the final instar.  They need a few more days feeding before they're able to pupate - and progress in this wet weather will be painfully slow... . 

The butterfly is highly unlikely to emerge here before early July (unless the second half of June is seriously good).  But iris emerges later in N Wilts than in some other parts of its range, and it may well be that some larvae in Surrey & Sussex pupated before the weather collapsed at the start of flaming June - so the butterfly may appear there in late June.  Last year, the butterfly appeared in Surrey two weeks before it started at Savernake.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, 2 of my captive larvae started to pupate today and the others look fully fed and ready to go down.  They seem to be a little ahead of their wild counterparts (but I put a rain hood over the sleeve in really wet weather). 

Here's one taking a near-final meal -

And here are my kittens, Wizzy and her partner in crime Matilda -

Plug:  The July issue of BBC Wildlife magazine (out now) has a feature on Iris by me.  Hope you like it...


The first of my captive bred iris has pupated this morning. This hints at an early July emergence but I suspect the wild stock here in North Bucks are probably a little later than this individual.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

LATE IRIS My iris have not really caught up. Three will not pupate before the third week in June at the earliest, and a fourth looks like an 'April larva'. The picture shows one of the mature larvae near to the underdeveloped fellow

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Caterpillar soft science

My colleagues and I have been looking for caterpillars in recent (<12 year-old) openings (0.5-2 ha clearings created by timber exploitation) in the forests north of Lausanne Switzerland. We randomly selected 19 such openings and looked for caterpillars for 2 hours in each. We found 5 occupied openings. It will probably come as no surprise to most of you, but Emperors seems to prefer young to middle aged openings. To young = no sallows, to old = sallows have been cut down to promote more profitable woods. Given the rythm of interventions in Swiss forests, the optimal stage seems to be around 6-8 years after timber exploitation (sory, the legends are in french...).

What's interesting for me is:
  • we can find caterpillars in randomly selected sites, which suggest a relatively high larval density in these openings (there must be false absence in our dataset too) 
  • we have shown this (serious-looking) graph to foresters and it helped making them understand the importance of keeping sallows in regeneration patches and it increased there awareness of the woodland butterflies (most of them were unaware of the existence of these beauties at all, the less so in their own woods)
NB: we did not look for caterpillars in edges, lanes and other potential places, so these results are probably very local/regional and will differ depending on where you study them.

Any input, thoughts, similar results would be greatly appreciated.

Iris in Print...

Out Now!  Article in the latest (July 2012) BBC Wildlife magazine by self on His Imperial Majesty.  Pages 64-69.  Same issue also contains an article by Richard 'Bugman' Jones on the wonders of metamorphosis. 

In Press: Article in the next British Wildlife magazine, 'Adventures with Caterpillars' - following Emperor larvae through in the wild. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Mating hints

Roy Pennock has some freshly emerged ires
which he is hoping to mate. Can anyone share their experiences/advice?