Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas to you all!!!

My Present to you all. Sorry, but due to the unpublished nature of the work, I am unfortunately unable to display more, but for the first time ever, here are some images of A.iris and the closely related S.charonda which have never been seen before. Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

More Seasoned Greetings

'First, we sleep the winter
Then we dance the spring'

Seasoned Greetings

Seasonal Greetings to all loyal subjects from His Imperial Majesty

(Fermyn Woods, Rockingham Forest, Northamptonshire 4:7:2010)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Larval Doings

Two mottled grey form larvae photographed yesterday in the wild. I am only following a small sample through this winter. They are named after Old Testament characters...
Fri Dec 17th. 8pm. BBC2. 1 hr Natural World on British Butterflies, at the start of which Messers Hulme & Oates finally Come Out as eccentrics... Be there, and enjoy...

Friday, December 3, 2010

Christmas Present Idea

Christmas fun for all the family, available at National Trust shops throughout England, Wales & Northern Ireland... No prizes for guessing a) what the top trump is, b) who selected the wildlife, c) who provided the picture... .
Close of play: Australia 245-all out.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Natural World on Butterflies


The more I look at wild hibernating larvae the more I realise they are masters of cryptic arts. This larva has a pink tinge, to blend in with the pink-tipped bud it's aligned itself to. Do not underestimate a caterpillar. It will probably still get crunched though... .

Friday, November 19, 2010

iris on BBC2 - 17th Dec 8pm

Ladies, Gentlemen, Ladies...

BBC2 is to transmit a one hour Natural World programme entitled Butterflies - a very British obsession at 8pm on Fri Dec 17th (not Tues 14th as previously published - they changed it at the last moment).

The grand opening (and of course centrepiece) of the programme is the appearance of His Imperial Majesty, the Purple Emperor, filmed in Straits Inclosure & Goose Green Inclosure, Alice Holt Forest, Hampshire, and Fermyn Woods, Northants, at the zenith of the immortal 2009 iris season (by kind permission of the Forestry Commission and His Imperial Majesty). Hibernating and full grown larvae also appear, and there is a remarkable showdown between Messrs Hulme and Oates. There's also some good side show material, such as the 2009 Painted Lady invasion, Silver-washed Fritillaries courting at Bookham Common, an incredible flight of Heath Fritillary, and cameo appearances by the Mountain Ringlet and Large Blue.

Narrated by Imelda Staunton, the programme is primarily about the cultural significance of butterflies in Britain today. It will be the highlight of your winter - skip the office party, The Messiah, Nine Lessons & Coughing etc., and enjoy!

You heard about it first on this website.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Hibernating Larvae

Photos taken in the wild on Sat Nov 13th, captions below -

1 This larva went into hibernation whilst still green, which is most unusual, and survived approximately 1 week before (apparently) succumbing to predation. I could spot it at 3m. It might have survived better had it chosen a greener stem or aligned itself to a yellow-green bud.

2 Most larvae assume this charcoal grey colour before they come off the leaves. They then match the grey bark well. This larva is in the airport departure lounge.

3 If they settle next to a live bud they change colour to this yellow-green form within about a week.

4 So, this grey larva, which had been in hibernation here for less than a week, should quite quickly turn yellow-green.

I'm only following nine wild larvae in hibernation at present, scattered in several woods. I may find two or three more, but the egg lay was poor (about 1/3rd of 2009's) and the pre hibernation survival rate seems to have been lower than in 09 (I have yet to analyse the data).

Finally brethren, with regard to England's magnificent victory on the rugby pitch on Saturday (which I listed to whilst caterpillaring): why can you never find an Australian when you need one? They simply disappear... .

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Upper Thames 2010 summary report

I run the risk here of irritating brother Matthew: he probably believes that to quantify HIM is sacrilege. Nevertheless, I'm so happy about the last two wonderful seasons here in Upper Thames, I just have to report it.
1] 2009 was twice as good as any as the previous 6 seasons, but 2010 was even better with 75% more sightings than in 2009. I've no idea why; has anybody?
2] HIM was seen in 46 localities, of which 12 were new habitats, by 45 recorders
3] The best territory was in a very small wood, aptly named Little Wood. Around one huge Ash and several Oaks at the highest point, sightings were made on 15 days between June 28th and August 7th: a 40 day period.
4] The first sightings were on June 28th, and the last on August 8th.

Monday, November 8, 2010



Will the person who deposited a half bottle of Casillero del Diablo in a cleft in a sallow (a female caprea no less) in the Forest of Braydon, north Wiltshire, remove it at once as it is causing considerable offence and may be interfering with the over-wintering of iris.

As those of us of the Second Covenant will know, when The Almighty performed his inaugural miracle he did not turn the water into an insult to wine (as above) but into at the very least a good ordinary claret.

Meanwhile, iris has mostly wandered off into hibernation (three out of 20 larvae were still on leaves yesterday). Unfortunately, the larvae seem to have been stimulated by unseasonally warm weather into wandering a long way prior to settling down, and are therefore going to be extremely hard to find in hibernation this winter. With only a small sample size to start with, the one thing I needed this autumn was cold weather at the start of November, to prevent larvae from moving far from their feeding leaves. A miracle is needed to retrieve the situation.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Scat Cat

Yesterday (Sunday 24th October) I spent a very enjoyable afternoon with Matthew, photographing some of his wild iris cats. The odd one must still be taking solids, as I heard the excited shout go up "he's pooing". Another we visited was already deep in winter slumber, and colours varied from bright green to dull greenish grey. They all had one thing in common - they're wonderful little beasties. Best tally was 6 on a single sallow. In now time-honoured tradition, we fended off any enquiries ("what are you two weirdos up to?") by replying "we're photographing biodiversity". Even better... we were bathed in warm, autumnal sunshine.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

status of larvae 23rd October

Of the 5 captive larvae, 3 are still eating, and still bright green, and 2 have taken up positions on dead leaves and are changing colour, although I'm not convinced that this will be their final position for the winter.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Clacket Lane

Clacket Lane appears to have all the requirements for being designated an emperor "hot-spot" - toilets, refreshments, easy parking and cover if the weather turns nasty!

For those out-of-towners I've attached a map - he's picked a great site readily accessible from the motorway network - just inside Surrey by a whisker from Kent. The interpretive centre is unfortunately on hold, as a result of Cameron's swingeing cuts, but plans are afoot to blockade the M25 with trucks, a la mode du fermier francais, if they're not rapidly reinstated.

So far, larvae only. Who'll be first to report adult iris from this prime location?

Friends of Clacket Lane Service Station

Delighted by Chris Iles's doings at the Clacket Lane service station on the Blessed M25. It would be marvellous if the larva he found there in May was indeed the one I'd found there on 29th Sept 2009. That was in a shady nook at the west end of the line of sallows fringing the car park on the anticlockwise circuit, north of the Road to Hell. I'd popped in for a pee, en route from Knepp Castle in West Sussex to Wicken Fen, and then spent 15 mins searching likely sprays in full view of two highly disinterested police officers sitting in a parked patrol car (I was going to tell them I was 'searching for biodiversity...').

This is yet another example of the magic of this butterfly - deep magic from beyond the dawn of time... .

Meanwhile, here's another picture of a larva colouring up for hibernation (taken yesterday). Enjoy -

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Shadow Play

I have been visiting the Purple Empire site and blog for a little while now and hoped these photos would be of interest.
The first is, I believe, of an old acquaintance of Matthew Oates, found at Clacket Lane service station early this May. Interestingly, although the shadow of the larva was clearly visible from below, the larva itself was in the usual "praying" posture which I understood was adopted to avoid the casting of visible shadows! Obviously not in this case. Perhaps the posture is adopted so that the shadow cast resembles that of an unfurling sallow leaf - I have shown a typical example casting a vaguely caterpillar-like shadow on the second photo. I could find leaves like this commonly on the Somerset Levels in late May and early June, though sadly none that replicated the horns that distinguish His Majesty.
Chris Iles.

et encore!

Being a fellow “iris” enthusiast and a follower of “The Empire” I thought I,d send you this pic of a magical moment I had in France this year . He may not be a British specimen but he is still worthy.

While I was on a carp fishing trip to France this year, HIM could,nt resist the allure of the Shrimp and mussel flavoured boilies that I was using as bait . The boilies were fresh but frozen ,put in a net drying bag and hung on a branch to thaw out . During the week countless Lesser Purple Emperors were attracted but this handsome fellow was the star, and was coaxed onto my hand for over half an hour . Truly a breathtaking moment to be in the presence of Royalty .

Please feel free to post on the web site as this might be of interest to others who may wish to try this as a method of attracting HIM from his throne .

Dave Law

L'empereur encore

I took the attached pics last year in the Morvan in central France, where my wife and I were camping in our VW van by a lake. The insect caught my attention as it was sucking greedily at the grouting on the open-air washing facility tiled floor. Looking closer I noted that was a Purple Emperor (I have never seen one before). It flew outside where I snapped it perched on a vehicle wheel. We returned this year but didn't see anything interesting on the campsite save for White Admirals, Painted Ladies and the like. We did however spot an unusual white in a rose hedge (ouch!) and took a poor picture which revealed a Black-veined White.
Hope this of some slight interest,
Best wishes,
Peter Butcher

Monday, October 18, 2010

Into Hibernation

Yesterday I watched a wild iris larvae selecting and preparing a spot for hibernation, and then settling down. After fidgeting around on its leaf, around noon it crawled up-stem to a junction, then turned downwards at the fork, crawled another 20cm, discovered the scar created where a twig had snapped off a year back, spent some 30 mins spinning silk all over that scar, before settling down there. The total journey length was some 40cm. The larva was about 75% coloured up (turning into the uncommon grey colour form).

This first photo shows the extensive silk pad about 75% completed -

The episode was tricksy to photograph as it took place fairly high up and I needed someone else to stabilise the stem. The second, less clear and earlier photo, shows the larva twisting its head about whilst spinning and deposting silk (these guys are serial spinners of silk, by the way) -

In case you're wondering, this is Heidegger - this year's larvae are named after western philosophers (and I thought I'd start with the only one that's worth reading).
Of 16 larvae seen yesterday, 2 were heavily coloured up, 3 others were in the early stages of colouring, 3 were thinking about it, but the bulk were still in Lincoln green. They are actually a little more advanced than their counterparts this time last year, when the first larva went into hibernation on 23rd October.
And by the way, iris larvae are even more interesting and exciting to study than the adults... .

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Larvae at Fermyn Woods


I met up with Matthew and some of the brethren at Fermyn in July 2008 ( a stunning day: I was lucky enough to see iris aplenty and even had the luck to watch some high-level mating) and have been folowing the blog ever since. I'm particularly interested in the searches that Matthew and Neil have conducted for third instar larvae, and am extremely keen to participate if such a scouring ever takes place back at Fermyn. Are any such hunts intended this year please?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Colouring Up

Half-coloured-up larva photographed yesterday. 50% of larvae are in a similar colour state, though none is more advanced and some are still in their late summer Lincoln green. Note that the normally yellow projections on the dorsum of the 4th abdominal segment have turned a rather nice orange colour. What are these projections called and what is the point of them?

What to buy for Christmas: The Butterfly Isles by Patrick Barkham, Granta Books £20 (£11.40 from Amazon), being published on 18th October.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Butterfly Isles - Launched Tues 18th Oct

Gentlemen, Lady. Be informed that the Executive Committee of the People of Purple Persuasion has decided that the dress code for next Tuesday's launch of Brother Patrick's book The Butterfly Isles (Granta books, £20, or £11.40 on Amazon) is Official Purple, or in purpuratum as we prefer. One Sock should also be worn.

The book, I can assure you, is an absolute cracker: buy it and find out... . The principle chapter is entitled The Curse of the Purple Emperor, in which he realises that those who follow the Swallow-tailed moth, or whatever that effete showy thing that haunts the Norfolk Broads is called, will never see the Monarch of all the Butterflies until they repent and convert to the true faith. Brother Patrick, the chapter reveals, was struck down on the road to Fermyn Woods on 5th July 2009 - by a large dollop of Vietnamese shrimp paste - and promptly converted. His mission now is to spread The Word to the gentiles.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Linda Brazewell sends this photo of her first Emperor, encountered in Vertus, in the Champagne area of France. Beautiful picture, Linda.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

He's Made the Grauniad

If there was any doubt about the revered status of His Imperial Majesty, it has now been totally dispelled.

He's made it to the front page of the Grauniad Online:

Monday, October 4, 2010

More Mildew Matters

On Mon Sept 27th I wrote, 'In several hundred hours of searching I have yet to find a larva on a branch bearing anything more than the odd spot of (Sallow Mildew)', and even more foolishly questioned whether iris females cannily avoid sprays that might be susceptible to this mildew.

So, the following weekend I find three larvae on mildew-affected leaves / sprays... . This butterfly defies science, ecology and natural history, but is seriously good at stimulating theories.

Suffice it that there is a lot of Sallow Mildew around this autumn. I will keep a close watch on these larvae to see how they fare.
Incidentally, the locations of the (very) few wild larvae I am following this autumn have been recorded via a Magellan MMCX GPS (which works well in woodland). I have left no markers on the trees.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Taxonomic Name Changes

The latest round of changes to butterfly scientific names is being cascaded down to minor BAP players such as us. Mercifully, the name of the Monarch of the Skies Apatura iris remains unchanged. Wisely so, as that name has serious resonance and depth of meaning to many people, as it has had throughout entomological time.

Our Pledge: If taxomonists dare so much as to consider changing this sacred name the People of Purple Persuasion will rise in countless thousands, torch all centres of taxonomy and impale any taxonomists found therein, and who are not of our persuasion, on Nordic walking poles - and then cover themselves in shrimp paste outside 10 Downing Street, naked.

Meanwhile, poor Brother Quercus has been garroted again. He is no longer to be known as Zephyrus quercus but is now to be called Favonius quercus. As any humble Classicist will know, Favonius is the (pre-Christian) Roman equivalent of Zephyrus, the God of the West Wind. What, then, is the point of this name change, especially as the butterfly - which conducts its courtship and mating along sunny west-facing wood edges in early evening - loathes the west wind (which prevents it from mating)?

Meanwhile, betulae - meaning, of birches - remains the specific name of Brother Betulae, the Brown Hairstreak, which has no association with birch trees. Has anyone ever seen a Brown Hairstreak settle on a birch?

Signed, in his own blood, and with high blood pressure,

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sallow Mildew

Photograph of a sallow spray affected by Sallow Mildew Uncinula adunca var regularis on what would otherwise have been a suitable branch (female tree of the Salix caprea type with leaves of mid-green colour, medium thickness, and a matt surface. The galls are no problem; indeed, iris eggs seem to mimic them). In several hundred hours (don't ask...) of searching I have yet to find a larva on a branch bearing anything more than the odd spot of this mildew, despite the fact that the mildew is quite common at this time of year on the shady sallows iris favours. This is remarkable, as it suggests that the females select sallows that are not going to be affected before the mildew actually starts to appear (usually from late August). Clever girls indeed... .

I have nearly finished searching the trees searched last year in Wiltshire, and it looks as if the 2010 egg lay was about 1/3rd of that of 09. More anon.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

3rd Instar

Very nice early 3rd instar larva photographed in N Wiltshire on Sunday September 19th. Note his silk pad 'seat' and feeding damage either side of the leaf tip. By this stage most larvae are on their third leaf, as they move to a new leaf for the second skin change. Enjoy.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

SEM Images

Thought some of you might appreciate viewing some of the SEM images of iris wing scales which I took earlier today.  Images detailing: 

Pilliform scales with inset close up of the central scale, highlighting its hollow structure.

The smooth inferior surface of a scale, laid across the textured, superior surface of pigment scales.

Close up view of a scale base.

Close up comparison of scale inferior and superior surfaces.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Poxes & Diseases

Various communications have been received re iris larvae dying mysteriously, both in captivity and in the wild. Many thanks for these.

'Irisscientist' had captive 4th instar larvae die off this May in a similar manner to my recent illustrations. But Derek Smith, who has bred one or two iris in his time, wondered whether the larva I featured had been predated (I think not: I checked the skin, which seemed intact).
I suspect a wet weather virus, but welcome other people's experiences and views. I'm not an experienced breeder and don't know what I'm talking about here... .

However, in the wet June of 1977 I lost about a dozen larvae (the only year I've tried to breed more than a few) when an orange fungal rust developed on the sallow leaf undersides. I did get it checked up but have forgotten what it is called. It proved instantly fatal. It seems to be associated with wet summer weather (remember the Silver Jubilee rains of June '77?!).

In the wild, grey-white Sallow Mildew Uncinula adunca var regularis develops quite commonly in late summer / autumn on the uppersides of leaves of sallows overhung by taller trees. I suspect it is fatal to iris larvae, though the females seen incredibly adept at avoiding laying on branches / trees which later become affected by it. Does anyone have any experience of this?

Meanwhile, Gentlemen, I am in a state of Severe Nervous Anxiety: Somerset are threatening to win the County Championship... .

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Festival of Dead iris larvae

Last Sunday's outing (gentlemen, we must all Come Out...) in pursuit of iris was particularly baleful, producing just two dead 2nd instar larvae - in 2 hrs 30 mins of actual searching. My guess is that they'd succumbed during / after that very wet week at the end of August, effectively to a 'wet weather virus'. In fact, mortality in the wild so far this autumn seems to be unusually high - and that's after a very poor egg lay.

Has anyone else encountered larvae dying off like this, either in the wild or in captivity?

To end on a happier note, here's a recent picture of a healthy wild 3rd instar larva (note the pale horns, indicating recent skin change). Most have now changed into this instar.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Managing Sallows for Fun and Profit

Just how do you manage sallows in the interests of iris?

Matthew has started a discussion on the website here.

If you have experience in this area, do please share your observations.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Mr. W.A. Cope: Best authority on iris? (1954)

When referring to the egg laying numbers of iris females, on page 40 of “Notes and Views” Hyde refers to a Mr. W.A. Cope as being “one of our best authorities on this species”. As stated on page 104 of “Notes and Views” the original reference to this quote being present on page 99 (although in truth the quote is actually on pages 98 and 99) of Vol.66 of “The Entomologist’s Record” (1954). Below is a URL link to an online copy:

I write to enquire if anybody has any further information about the works of this illusive Mr. W.A. Cope, as internet searches unfortunately fail to yield any details regarding his work in relation to iris, which would deem him worthy of this title?

Any/all leads that can provide further information on this matter would be very much appreciated.

Kindest regards,


Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Very nice pair of Apatura ilia clyti recently bred and photographed by Derek Smith.
There ain't no cure for love...

Monday, September 6, 2010

Latest Doings

Gentlemen, we are currently skin changing, from the 2nd to 3rd instar (in which we will stay for seven months). Note the yellow band at the back of the head, indicating that the skin is getting oh so tight... .
Searches for larvae continue, but it is quite clear that numbers are way down on this time last year - almost certainly because females were killed off prematurely by the St Swithin's Day gale. Most areas that revealed pleasing numbers of larvae last early autumn are now producing at best only one or two (yesterday I found 1 in 3 hrs 30 mins, on trees that produced 12 last Sept). However, I have found the odd hot spot, but it is very hard work.
PLEASE NOTE: This blog functions all year round. Keep visiting it, and do put your highlights from the 2010 flight season on, if you haven't already done so.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Memories are made of this

Yes, it's September, and the flight season is long gone.

To cheer us all up, here's a picture from Nick Wynn, memories of a magical day.

Here she is, caught in the Hemp agrimony on 26th July 2002 in Bentley Wood. Although not obvious in the photo, she was exploring the flowers with that amazing yellow tongue and was so engrossed that I was able to pull the flower heads down and take the shot without disturbing her.
This pic was taken with my old film camera and scanned into the computer.

Nick Wynn

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Red Book and Apaturidae - Mark Youles

Following on from our previous email exchange back in June, I write to enquire if you (or any of the colleagues) are aware of any centralised data for the global red list/red data classifications of the Apaturidae genus and iris in particular?

Having so far been unable to find any such existing data, I have been able to compile the attached table (within a word.doc) and wondered if you (or any of the colleagues) know of any additional data that is not already mentioned within? If so, I would be most grateful if these could please be forwarded onto me (with relevant references) in order to improve on the limited amount of data that I already have. The C.ulupi/Se.chandra India data I am currently awaiting confirmation of final classification which was awarded.

I thank you for any assistance that you might please be able to provide in regards to this matter. Regards, Mark

Can anyone help Mark Youles with his researches? You can download the document to which he refers here:

and you can reach Mark here:


As a child in the late sixties I am ashamed to say that my interest in butterflies lay in catching and killing them. At this time I was never fortunate [!] enough not to even see his majesty let alone catch him.

Time passed and my interest waned but in more recent years a chance encounter with a Silver Spotted Skipper reignited my enthusiasm for butterflies and subsequently a camera replaced my net.

Obviously with this renewed interest I wanted to see those species that had eluded me in my youth - especially the Purple Emporer.

It was in 2009 that I trawled the internet to find the best local site to see himself and through Alan Thornbury's excellent website set forth for Straits Inclosure.

That year, during the first couple of weeks of July, I became thoroughly entranced with many close encounters of a butterfly that I once thought I would never see - even seeing a flypast of four at once!!!! During this time I found the Purple Empire website and was relieved to find that I was not the only one that had become similarly entranced by the same creature.

Plans were made to take advantage of my new found knowledge for various forays this year and my first - if distant - sighting was at Bentley Wood on the 2nd July.

The following day I made a hesistant return to Staits Inclosure as I had become aware of the havoc wreaked by FE and it was every bit as bad as I had feared. However just 50m along the track I found a pristine male displaying on the path for me and had a few further sightings during the course of the morning.

During this time I reestablished my acquaintance with Ashley Whitlock - the Hants and IoW Purple Emporer recorder- who I had met at Straits the previopus year. He quietly pointed me over the road to Abbots Wood Inclosure where he had some good sightings -THANKS!

Over the subsequent days I made a number of visits here, making frequent sightings of both himself and eventually herself. This culminated in a courting pair circling around me when I could clearly hear their wings clashing before the disinterested female dissappeared deep into an adjacent sallow.

Just as the season was drawing to a close my dad sadly died after ashort illness.

In order to console myself and reflect on dads life I took myself off to Abbotts Wood in the vain hope that I would get a final sighting.

I walked right through the wood and back again , checking all of the spots where I had sightings previously but despite good weather - nothing. Dissappointed I sat down by a large oak to eat my sandwiches before heading home.

Just then I spotted a movement in the gloom beneath the oak. Thinking to myself 'White Admiral' I casually walked across to see a very battered Emporer perched on the trunk where it seemed there was a sap run. I took a couple of poor snaps of what what was surely my last encounter of this year and felt very contented.

As I walked back across the track to get my bag I glimpsed a movement out of the corner of my eye and immediately froze. Sure enough it was himself come to say goodbye. As I stood there he circled me three times, clearly showing purple from his one intact wing, before landing on my shoulder for a second and flying back to the sap run.

It was the end of the season and I will leave it to you think what it meant to me in the circumstances - but it was a very special moment.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

In my end is my beginning

Showing an egg about to hatch, with the larva's black head prominent, and a standard middle aged egg. When freshly laid they are a uniform blue-green.

In the wild, iris eggs have (almost certainly) all hatched by now, and there is an even mix of 1st and 2nd instar around. They almost invariably eat the egg case top and sides on hatching, leaving the egg case base intact. This can remain on the leaves for weeks.

The flight season is ended, but in my end is my beginning...