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.