Saturday, December 31, 2011

31st December

I still have three iris larvae in hibernation in / around Savernake Forest - so no losses during December (but from a very small sample, and after heavy losses / disappearances during November - it may be that some crawled considerable distances to find hibernation places during the very mild November, though others were almost certainly predated).

And a huge flock of Brambling & Chaffinch along lower Three Oak Hill Drive ('Column Ride'), probably 400-600 birds in all, feeding amongst beech litter over about 1 ha of ground beneath tall beech trees. That easily doubles my life tally of Brambling...

Seasoned Greetings to all followers of The One True Butterfly...

Friday, December 30, 2011

Winter twilight

-1°C and still moving!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

How To Look After Your Emperors at Christmas...

Seasoned greetings to all our followers, from HIM and Herself...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

How not to look after your Emperors part 2

Another day, another wood! The signage says the work will help safeguard the rare butterflies such as Purple Emperor. We think not nor White Admiral as all the honeysuckle has been ripped out! The felled sallow is just one, it had been a massive beast but they left the spindly ones exposed so the first gale (which was probably last night) will probably snap the tops off!

We also particularly liked the image on the new signage!!! White Admiral not! A simple case of going into google, and typing White Admiral so the an american wiki page comes up with a picture of a White Admiral but it is Limenitus arthemis or similar. Words fail us! Photos taken by Andrew M

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Fermyn Woods Wind Farm

Interesting piece in today's Daily Telegraph about the battle over the proposed wind farm in between the two main blocks of Fermyn Woods, East Northants - the heartland of the Purple Empire. Mentions Purple Emperor, as has other media coverage to date. See -

Incidentally, the evidence I presented to the public inquiry openly admitted that the wind farm will not significantly threaten the Fermyn iris population, but argued that it will devalue the Purple Experience - visitor experience - and will devalue or desecrate the intense feeling of Spirit of Place that we can experience there. In addition, I pointed out that the area is also an important literary landscape - for those of us who love BB's writings (and Dryden!).

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Continental empire

First snow and first sightings of hibernating larvae in Switzerland (Jorat forest, north of Lausanne). We're launching a small research project in collaboration with local woodland managers. No Apatura ilia so far (but last sighting was 30 years ago...)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Sunday, November 27, 2011

In At Last

Today (Sun Nov 27th) my last two captive iris larvae went into hibernation. This is the latest I've recorded them go into hibernation in some 25 years of intermittent breeding - though I've seldom bred more than 3-4 at a time and the sample size is probably <100. They seem to wait for their seat leaves to be completely dry before they move (though I've seen them crawling around quite happily in wet conditions in the wild). Wish I could conk out for four months too... .

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Wont Go To Bed!

Iris larvae remain loath to go into hibernation in this mild autumn, though they are actually going in now.

In Savernake, six out of nine had gone into hibernation by Fri Nov 18th. The first went in between the 5th and 12th.

However, in 2009, one was hibernating by Oct 23rd and the last by Nov 15th. In 2010 one went in between 17th and 23rd Oct, and all were in by Nov 13th. And those were fairly mild autumns.

In captivity this autumn, on a 'late' tree, four out of seven are now in hibernation but two are still on green leaves, as below.

'I refuse to hibernate!' Culkerton, Glos, 20/11/11

'Done it!' Savernake, Wilts, 18/11/11

Thursday, November 17, 2011

How not to look after your Emperors

This is what we saw as we walked through a wood in central Herts yesterday. Woodland grant in place and rideside sallows removed as was rideside honeysuckle. And for info its not without continually telling this particular government body to manage the sallows in the Hertfordshire woods for Emperors. Purple Emperor is a Hertfordshire SAP species to which this particular government body is signed up as a partner. Our taxes paid for this! Copy and paPhotos by Andrew M

And the last one standing - its was so tall it wouldn't fit in the view finder

And yes we have told them how important sallows are!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Delighted to find an iris egg case base in Marlpost Wood, West Sussex, on Sat Nov 5th. The same leaf also held a 1st & 2nd instar seat pad, with the silk still fully visible, and distinctive feeding marks either side of the leaf tip. Sadly, no sign of the larva.

Egg case bases can persist into the autumn - if your eyesight is up to spotting them - but I don't think I've found one later than late Sept before. This may then be some sort of record, of which I'm proud - so nemesis will duly follow. The drama took place in the very spot where I saw (and caught) my first Duke of Burgundy Fritillary, in 1968.

Earlier that day, two out of nine wild larvae in / around Savernake were in hibernation, with a third thinking about it (i.e. it was watched spinning a silk pad on a twig, before returning to its seat pad). All bar two were fully coloured up. As in previous autumns, these larvae are on a mix of 'early', 'middle' and 'late' trees in terms of timing of leaf fall.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, two out of seven larvae are in hibernation and the remainder fully coloured up. They are somewhat ahead of their wild cousins - or rather, their wild cousins are behind their wild fathers and grandfathers.

My long-haired cat, Flea, seems to have grown a relatively short and thin winter coat this autumn, perhaps suggesting a mild winter....

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Larval Diapause

Probably the most thorough, although not entirely scientifically accurate article relating to Iris diapause was published in “The Entomologist's record and journal of variation” back in 1954, by F.V.L. Jarvis. The article was quite comprehensive and can be read via the “Biodiversity Heritage Library” website at the following URL:

Pages 212-217 and 234-240.

Similar articles associated with the subject matter (amongst many others, I am sure) were also published by, C.J. Luckens (1976) and H.G.Short (1977) also in “The Entomologist's record and journal of variation” and can also be read at the following ULR’s respectively:

In spite of the findings reported in these articles however, more accurate research has shown that larval diapause is actually controlled by photoperiod and temperature in an absence of the normal ‘moulting’ hormone ecdysone.
Larval pigmentation/camouflage in response to diapause is a subject matter which is still under debate, although it is again thought to be under hormonal control. Consistent with the findings reported by Jarvis (and also Dennis, below), however there is still some evidence (Chippendale, 1972) which supports the idea that pigmentation is influenced by hydration levels and ingested host/food plant material(s). Chippendale 1972, abstract URL link as follows:

In contrast to the statement by Dennis however regarding the irreversibility of larval pigmentation, his statement (unless I have misunderstood it?) is unfortunately not correct (otherwise the larvae would never rouse from their diapausal states) and has been documented by many researchers (such as Bell 1983 and Rock 1983). Again the factors controlling arousal from diapause, are known to be temperature and photoperiod influencing hormonal balances. Bell 1983 and Rock 1983 abstract links can also be read at the following ULR’s respectively:

I hope the information above is of interest to some of you?


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

autumn larvae November 2nd

Matthew's blog on the factors influencing survival is interesting. They certainly seem to like sitting in a water globule at the leaf apex. In these photos [November 2nd], you see two captive larvae on the same Sallow, just a few cms apart; one is still in green summer livery, while the other has coloured up, even though its leaf is still green. Two others have also coloured up, one on a green leaf, whereas the other is in its hibernation position on a branch near a bud. Past experience indicated that larvae remain green until the leaf changes colour; apparently not the case here. However, the two brown larvae on green leaves had been transferred, one week ago, from a branch [same Sallow] where the leaves had turned yellow [and the larvae had started to assume their hibernation livery] onto this branch where the leaves are still fresh and green. I think this shows that the colour change is determined by the leaf background, and that it is not reversible!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Autumnal Larvae

In the space of seven days most wild larvae have coloured up, with only two out of nine still looking green. This is unusually rapid progress. They have now suddenly caught up with their domesticated cousins.

Autumn larvae spend much time hiding in the rain drop that gathers on the downward-facing leaf tip. Today one suddenly crawled out from his rain drop, in steady drizzle, preceded to add a bit more silk to strengthen his seat leaf on to the twig, before returning back to his drip! Temperature at the time was 13C. I don't care what mistakes people make in life only please don't underestimate a caterpillar. Below are two wild larvae having a great time in rain drops.

My data suggests that autumn larval survival (on the leaf) may actually be higher in wet autumns and lower in dry autumns such as 2011.... This needs proper and careful analysis, not least because other factors may well be at play - notably annual tit breeding success and resultant predator population size. Whatever, late summer - autumn survival on leaves has been lower this year.... which doesn't auger well for 2012 adult numbers.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Savernake Forest

I had a fantastic day at Savernake Forest with Matthew Oates and Phil Corley last Sunday. Having searched for iris larvae at Oversley Wood in Warwickshire in Jan/Feb this year without success, i was very excited to see them for the first time and have the opportunity to learn as much as possible. The 5 larvae we saw were still lovely and green. The sallow leaves at Oversley are really starting to drop now and one tree i noticed on Thursday was almost completely bare. By comparison, the sallows at Savernake are still very full looking. Perhaps this is why none of the caterpillars have fully coloured up/in hibernation yet? One of the 'pillars we saw decided to go for walkies when we arrived and promptly shuffled along 3 or 4 branches before finding a new leaf a little higher up. I couldn't believe how fast it moved! I wasn't previously aware of how they spin their silk pads so seeing this little guys head waving around above us was really a sight to see. We also visited a couple of the congregation areas where the males' favourite trees/perches were easy to spot.

The photography side of the trip was challenging to say the least. The wind would not let up and the leaves were waving around like mad. Still, Phil and I managed to get some decent shots with his Canon MP-E 65mm lens. I thought a side on shot would be interesting (see below) as it shows the prominent black hairs and also the raised yellow area on the back. Does anyone know what this is called and its purpose?

A big thank you to Matthew for taking the time to show us these incredible little creatures. I think i now have the bug! Although the larvae appear to be very hard to find this year, im really hoping to put my new knowledge to use and have a proper iris search at Oversley Wood this winter. I may even take a pair of ladders with me like the professionals :)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Fab Photos

Fantastic photos of wild larvae taken on Sun Oct 23rd in Wilts by Phil Corley (2nd two) & Gill Thompson (top). Note the black hairs. Eat your heart out Neil Hulme....

Monday, October 24, 2011

Larval Progress

Great day yesterday in Savernake with Gillian Thompson and Phil Corley. I expected to see wild iris larvae in various colours, and perhaps find one hibernating, but five of the eight seen were still in full Lincoln green and the other three were only just starting to colour up. Odd.

Conversely, on 24/10/10 three out of 13 were fully coloured up and one was in hibernation, and on 23/10/09 five out of 14 were fully coloured, six were >50% coloured and one was in hibernation.

Maybe they are later this year because of the mild autumn? However, the seven captive larvae I have are far more advanced: one went into hibernation a week ago, five more are fully coloured up and the other is about 50% coloured up. This is the first time my captive larvae have not been fully synchronised with their wild Wiltshire cousins, and my breeding tree stays green till late.

Meanwhile, on Sat 22nd I saw my latest ever Green-veined White, at Magdalen Hill Down, Winchester. My previous record was one in Jane Austen's cottage garden at Chawton, Hants, during the incredibly mild and dry autumn of 1975, when Small and Large White, Small Copper and Wall Brown lingered into early November. Sorry Jane....

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Fermyn Wind Farm

Here's the protest group's link

This precious landscape needs our help, and the protest group needs funds. Anyone wishing to donate to the fighting fund should contact Peter Stephens on .

Many thanks...

Monday, October 17, 2011

Peace Breaks Out!

Remarkable photo of two iris larvae actually tolerating each other's presence. Make no mistake, these guys really hate each other. Larvae are normally as territorial as adult males, if not more so. The one on the right is colouring up for hibernation.

Next week: peace between Israel and Palestine... .

Monday, October 10, 2011

Fermyn Wind Farm

Just to say that I will be presenting evidence to a public inquiry into the Barnwell Manor Wind Farm proposal in mid November, on behalf of the National Trust which is part of a consortium objecting to the proposal.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Fermyn Wind Farm

Images of protest balloon above Lady Wood Head, flying at the maximum height of the turbine blade - 415', indicating the extent of visual intrusion. The proposal is for at least 4 of these turbines in the arable field between Fermyn Wood and Lady Wood Head.

Meanwhile, the Forestry Commission has cut back overhanging sallows along Cherry Lap, the main (eastern) ride through Fermyn Wood, by flail-cutter. Also, I can report that Purple Emperor larvae are seriously hard to find in these woods this autumn, indicating a poor egg lay year here too...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fermyn Wind Farm

Rest assured that a strong argument on behalf of the friends of the Purple Emperor, and their allies, will be put to any public inquiry into the proposed wind farm at Fermyn Woods. I cannot give too much away at this stage, but an inquiry would need to know that a large number of folk visit these woods from late June to late July to engage with this most wondrous insect in a most wondrous landscape - and that giant wind turbines would detract horrifically from that experience for most if not all of them. I have kept records of the number of Purple enthusiasts seen in the woods and have been able to extrapolate an annual total - and it's massive. There are positive implications for the local economy.

I appreciate that many of us, including me, strongly support moves towards greener energy, including wind farms; it's just that nearly all, or perhaps all, the People of Purple Persuasion regard the Fermyn Woods complex as being an immensely special landscape, well worthy of vigorous protection, and a grossly inappropriate site for giant wind turbines.

In addition, Fermyn Woods is 'BB's heartland. 'BB', a.k.a Denis Watkins-Pitchford, was a eminent servant of His Imperial Majesty who lived, painted and wrote at nearby Sudborough. He lived and breathed Rockingham Forest. His book Brendon Chase fired up my enthusiam for the Purple Emperor, and changed my life. He would fiercely resent giant wind turbines in the middle of his heartland. I and many others owe him a lot, and our views will be made known to an inquiry. His writing, his history and his values are part of that landscape, and will be defended.

I would welcome cogent arguments and facts for possible inclusion in proof of evidence - via email to (I am working on this in National Trust time).

There is also the issue of the backdrop to the National Trust's Lyveden New Bield property, shown here without wind turbines ....

'What we have loved others will love; and we may teach them how'

William Wordsworth, Prelude XIII 444-5.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Emperors and Windfarms Don't Mix

Some nutter has proposed to build a windfarm close to the end of Fermyn Woods where the best numbers of Purple Emperors are. I have only just found this out in the nick of time.

Unfortunately, there is only until midnight tonight to place objections. Can I suggest that everybody does so asap?

I have just objected. Click here to read it:

If anybody wishes to object -- on grounds of disturbance to Purple Emperors, Red Kites, etc??!! -- click here:

and scroll down to "Comment on this Case".

I'd appreciate it if you passed this on to as many people, as possible, as time is running out!!

Dave Phillips

Monday, September 19, 2011

New Northants Location

I am the Butterfly Conservation transect walker for Bearshank Wood, which is approx one mile east of Fermyn Wood. I am pleased to report multiple sightings of Purple Emperor males this summer. I believe this is a new venue for the species?

Although I only recorded four on my weekly "official" Transect walks (two each in weeks 14 and 15, ie on July 4th and 12th), I spotted several more (up to six in a hour) on other visits during that brief "window" of fine weather in early July. I did not see any after the middle of July.

A retired friend of mine who is a keen ornitholigist also told me he had seen several Purple Emperors (again all males) during his early morning (approx 9am - 10am) daily wlaks around Bearshank Wood. This was the first year he had seen them, in 30 years of visiting the place on a daily basis.

Bearshank Wood was mainly coniferous until about 12 years ago, when they were cut down and replace dby indigenous trees (mainly birth and oak saplings). However, sallow has become very prolific in many areas, particularly (and convemniently!) close to the nearest vehicular access point. This is also where I enjoyed most sightings, on the track (flattened hardcore/gravel) that runs into the wood.

I believe it is a Forestry Commission wood. It is controlle dby a shooting syndicate, but I know the gamekeeper quite well and he appears to be conservation-friendly. I mentione dto him the importance of not cutting back the sallows!

It is close to Lyveden New Bield, a National Trust property, where I have photographed some lovely SW Fritillaries this summer and which I'm sure Matthew must know well. (Lyveden is situated midway between Fermyn and Bearshanks)

I hope the above information is useful. If you require any more, please don't hesitate to ask

David Phillips
Caroline Cottage, Church Street,
Nr Oundle, Northants PE8 5ST

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Skin Changing

Larva skin changing from 2nd to 3rd instar, note yellow neck.

Monday, September 12, 2011

3rd Instar

Larvae in captivity and in the wild are now almost all in the 3rd instar. This stage lasts some 8 months, including ca 5 months in hibernation. After skin changing into the 3rd instar larvae move to a new leaf, and usually to a new spray. In the wild this may involve a journey of >1m, sometimes as far as 2.5m, usually upwards within the tree. These movements can be mistaken for instances of mortality / predation.

The number of larvae I'm finding in Wilts remains horribly low - currently averaging out at one larvae per 80 mins of actual searching time at present, though the task isn't finished yet and this figure will change. In the annus mirabilis of 2009 I was finding one every 20 mins in these woods...

I'm going to spend a weekend searching for 3rd instar larvae in the Northants woods soon. I strongly suspect that the egg lay will have been considerably better there, for the population's significantly bigger and females were laying well there several days before the weather fell apart on July 6th.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

eggs and larvae

In Bucks and Oxon too it has been very difficult to find larvae. It started well enough, sensationally in fact, with Steve Croxford finding 14 eggs in a mid-Bucks wood in mid July in a very short time [see his blog for the details]. Normally, I never start looking until the beginning of August but, for this early season, this was obviously already too late. It seems that predators have had a field day this year and snapped up most of the larvae in July. Matthew and I, together and separately, have found many leaves that had 'iris was here' written all over them.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

More on 2011 Egg Lay

The situation is even more tricksy than I suggested in my previous posting, for there appears to be less suitable foliage around this late summer / early autumn than during the previous two years, at least from ground level.

I've searched and graded (subjectively but hopefully consistently) a large number of sallow trees three years running, and have so far found that few that were deemed suitable in 09 and / or 10 are looking suitable this year. This may be due to the early spring, or the poor summer. Certainly, foliage growth varies a lot from year to year. I've even had some sallow trees change from being broad-leaved types in 09 to looking distinctly narrow-leaved in 11, and vice versa! Shape shifting... .

I need to ascend some sallows. It may be that more eggs than usual were laid this year on the sub-canopy isolated sprays that the insect generally favours.

Any excuse to climb trees... .

Sunday, August 21, 2011

2011 Egg Lay

I'm now able to issue a provisional estimate of the 2011 iris egg lay in and around Savernake Forest, Wilts - and it's bad news: unless I discover a couple of serious hotspots it looks as though the 2011 egg lay is around half that of 2011, itself a poor lay.

Having sampled much of the forest, it looks as though I'll find about 30 eggs & larvae this year, compared t0 60 in 2010 and 141 in 2009 (an exceptionally good year). Today, I searched 10 good trees that produced nine ova / larvae in 2010 and 16 in 2011, and found four.

The situation may be better in Bucks, Herts, Northants and Oxon where for reasons unknown the butterfly seemed to be in better numbers this year, and should consequently have laid more eggs. But the egg lay may be even worse in Sussex.

At this range it seems highly unlikely that 2012 will be a good iris year, but I'm more than happy to be proved wrong...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Emperor in August

On the subject of the Emperor in August I have one sighting in Hampshire on the 05 August in Benyons Inclosure which is near Pamber Forest. Also I have seen a photo of a female Emperor on the ground in Alice Holt Forest on the 29 July and she looks almost in perfect condition. How she managed to stay like that through the wet and windy July heaven knows, unless she was a very late specimen, and managed to avoid the terrible July. I bet she was never mated either, which would seem such a waste. I'm sending you the picture so you can see the lovely 'girl' in all her glory!

Ashley Whitlock

Monday, August 15, 2011

In my beginning is my end...

On 13th June Rob Hill saw the first iris of the year, at Bookham Common. This was His Imperial Majesty's earliest (known) appearance since 1893.

Today, at 3pm, Rob and another gent saw what must be the year's last, a pale worn female seemingly engaged in egg laying, again at Bookham Common.

This is only the second August sighting reported (so far), after one at Loxwood, W Sussex, on Fri 12th. It may well be the year's final sighting.

In my end is my beginning...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Larval Doings

A day searching for iris larvae in the N Wilts woods whilst listening to Test Match Special was rather downheartening: larvae were horribly scarce, until I struck a mild Purple Patch late on, finding 3 larvae and 2 about-to-hatch ova. Test Match Special, I hasten to add, was far from downheartening - especially as the results of recent matches must have upset the Australians considerably... . One larvae was in the early second instar (+ horns), and 2 were skin changing from the 1st instar. It's too early to tell yet but my fear is that this year's egg lay is even poorer than last year's, at least in this district.

Today, Brother Dennis and I met to discuss the more obtuse passages of the Book of Ezekiel whilst searching in a superb privately owned wood in NW Bucks. This wood is managed by an enlightened owner who bears His Imperial Majesty firmly in mind (ever since he was attacked by a posse of 4 males whilst mowing the rides a number of years back). We struggled to find three second instar larvae, and three leaves bearing seat pads + feeding damage +/- egg case bases but no signs of larvae. It looks as those those three had already succumbed. Although this is needle-in-haystack country, as all the rides are gloriously lined with sallows, we should have done better than that.

Watch this space... And enjoy the 4th test.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Matthew's Latest!

I notice that Matthew's name has turned up on p35 of last weeks (August 7th) Sunday Express. Just a pity that young Stella Woodbridge was pictured with a Morpho instead of his Highness! For those interested the associated text reads:

"Nature lovers join the butterfly beauty hunt" There has never been a better time to be a butterfly spotter. This summer has produced a bumper insect crop with warm temperatures and sunny spells bringing many of Britain's 46 species out in force. Unlike the VIctorians who netted the creatures, killed them and mounted them on boards, today's butterfly hunters are content tp photograph or simply admire them. The pastime is now so popular the National Trust is running a "love butterflies" weekend and encouraging the public to use internet site Twitter to post the names of species they see and where they are spotted. Trust conservation adviser Matthew Oates said "If all goes well, you're left with beautiful pictures and treasured memories".

Emperor Photo Competition

All over by the look of it, so let's wrap it up.

As always, some magnificent photography from bloggers. I'm constantly amazed that we can rustle up a good few dozen images, any one of which would have been an exceptional picture twenty years ago. It was only the cost of running through 35mm film that was holding us back!

So, my own personal and highly biased view. Out of an exceptional field, the following I rate primi inter pares:

Nick Butt's great twosome in depth:

Ashley Whitlock's iris with attitude - real personality in this one.

Matthew's great females - difficult to find, and rich fulvous colour. Great technique.

Neil's Miss Iris - how could you go past this one?

Rob Hill's duelling ires

Mike Coleman's lovely underside - a classic, almost cliched, but great technique and out of focus background. And a similar shot from Neil, both really getting value out of those macro lenses.

And then we still have Neil's ab afflicta series - just reward for the many many hours that Neil puts in for protection and promotion of this and other species.

Quite frankly, I can't and won't separate these. Great pictures all, so different and yet every one illustrating a different aspect of his, and her, majesty. Well done everyone, and bring on 2012.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Your Help is URGENTLY Needed...

One small flutter for his highness, one giant leap for his highnesses kind...

On going research work being conducted behind closed doors on his highness (and his closest Apaturinae associates) has taken a leap forward today with the confirmation that I will have access to a powerful GC-MS (Gas Chromatography, Mass Spectrometer) machine with which I intend to analyze the chemical composition of specific areas of male iris wings. The chemical(s) I hope to identify on the portions of the male iris wings, are however relatively unstable and unfortunately rapidly oxidise in atmospheric air. As a consequence of this chemical degradation, the analysis must therefore unfortunately be performed on fresh (less than 1 month old) samples if any hope of the expected chemical(s) are to be detected. Considering that the UK iris flight season is now almost over, I write in absolute desperation of finding a lone wild male specimen with which this critical analysis might please be able to be performed. Although the ideal specimen for this analysis would still have wings which are in a reasonable condition, my desperation means that I will accept almost any male, just as long as it has been obtained from the wild. Although I do also need a captive reared specimen for use as an essential control, the most critical male specimen must unfortunately be obtained from the wild. Already dead male specimens would however also be ideal for this analysis as their natural lives would thankfully have already served their purpose. I therefore write in order to please appeal to all of your over riding scientific minds, whilst re-iterating the significance with which a lone male specimen, which is undoubtedly already at the end of it's natural life might please help us to re-write the natural history books, regarding what is currently known about this most remarkable butterfly species.

I would not write this message unless my request was of the most sincere nature and due to the severity of my desperation, I urgently hope that one of you might please be able to help locate a single lone (ideally already dead) male which can be used to further our understanding of this most magnificent butterfly species.

Next years generation coming along nicely

One of next years generation that appears to be doing well. Several of the larvae that I have sleeved have now shed their first skins, all appear to be doing well. Some simple maths indicates that the earliest of these were laid as early as the 1st July, give or take a day or two.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Fat Lady Thwarted

She didn't sing today, infact she had a Nordik walking pole firmly stuffed down her throat. I toured the main Savernake male territories. All were blank bar the best one (the Dead Beech Glade) which produced no less than 3 males. They produced one glorious clash and chase involving all three, and several chases of pairs. The dominant male saw off a red kite (already on the PE hit list). All three were worn and a little frayed about the edges. Looks like there should be one left next weekend, though the following might be the last photo of the (lousy) 2011 iris season (top left) -

That's the good news. The worrying news is that the 2011 egg lay may be even worse than its predecessor...

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Humble Ringlet

During the duller periods of lesser Purple seasons, such as this, the People of Purple Pursuasion may wish to work the plebecite for aberrations. The humble Ringlet, hyperanthus, may be rewarding. Hyperanthus was, of course, one of the 50 sons of Aegyptus, who did bugger all other than begat 50 sons - all of whom were slaughtered on their wedding night by their brides. Here is ab arete, or is it ab caeca, I can't remember, photographed somewhere in the nether regions of the Empire this July.

Red Admiral Confusion

Many of us encountered numerous Red Ads in Purple Places this season. E.g., there was one every 50-75m along the rides in Fermyn Woods in early July. Red Ads also visited a lot of baits, natural and otherwise, this season. It seems there was a sizeable influx of Red Ads to the SE on the back of thunderstorms there on Tues June 28th.

Red Ads commonly set up territories in iris territories, though well below Emperor level. Indeed, one way of finding new Emperor territories is to look for Red Ad territories, and then look upwards.

Battling territorial Red Ads also chase each other about at speed, though usually not at irisian level - but we can at a distance mistake atalanta for iris because of this behaviour. Atalanta doesn't, however, engage in the classic circling squabble of iris males. Brothers c-album and cardui also chase each other about, sometimes high up - out of sight & out of mind, like iris. So we can confuse these lesser mortals for the Monarch of all the Butterflies at a distance. Beware of false prophets, for many will come in His name... A male Emperor will, of course, see off any of this riff-raff.

Here is a couple of pix of a male Red Ad that adopted Brother Neil as a perching point below the Marlpost Wood North Gate iris territory this season. Red Ad males are almost ubiquitous here during the Purple season -

Note the use of Grecian 2011 in the above pic... It proved, though, useless as a bait for iris.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Today, 26th July, as a minor digression, I watched a fresh male Duke of Burgundy Fritillary beating up a male Dingy Skipper - before they both took on a couple of Small Skippers, one of which later proved to be an Essex Skipper. I think this is the first time His Grace has tangled with his arch rival during the Purple Emperor season.

His Grace needs his own website, but in the meantime is welcome on this website where he will forever be known as The Duke of Burgundy Fritillary (once a king and queen in Narnia, always a king and queen in Narnia - Aslan said that). Here he is, on a late summer flower no less -

Monday, July 25, 2011

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

Greetings from the 2012 Purple Emperor season... on its way. Skin changing to 2nd instar.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Some Purple Bits

Over the weekend just gone we had a trip to Fermyn, hoping for some late season action; alas it was not to be!

We did have a very brief fly-by male in the wood during the very cold northerly wind on Friday, but torrential rain overnight to the Saturday will probably have finished them off!

Roll on next year, and hoping for a better sequence of rest days.



It's winding down here, too: just 3 females seen in two different woods today.
The attached photos, taken by Malcolm Brownsword during our field trip to Bernwood earlier this month, shows HIM allowing one of his Admirals first bite at the cherry [synonym for dog poo].

Season Ending

Ashley's right, this (rotten) season is ending fast. Today I struggled to see three lone males in a search of the main territories in Savernake, one of whom was so battered he had no right to be flying at all. Also, I failed to see Herself during two long vigils in the best breeding area. Savernake is a 'late' site, where males usually last until about 7th August. I doubt they'll be any left there by next weekend.

What do you do when the party's over? Find another party! It's egg-hunting time again, followed by 10 wonderful months of fascinating caterpillars. Emperor season without end...

End of the Purple Season

Date: 23 July 2011
Weather: Very Cloudy, Breezy with short interludes of sunshine
Temperature: 60f
Recorder: Ashley Whitlock
Location: Alice Holt Forest (1)
The sun was out when I arrived on site at 1230 but there was a lot of cloud about, and it could disappear at any time. It was probably too early to see anything, and I was right. There was nothing to be seen until 1305 as the weather had turned and was quite breezy and the cloud cover was almost 100%. A male did turn up at 1305 which was very lucky as I was going to go at 1300! He did the usual ‘s’ flight pattern and disappeared into the thick foliage of the Beech Tree. There was a Buzzard flying over the tops of this tree, and not sure whether it had seen this male, but he seemed to be hanging around. The male got off of his perch again and was patrolling quite merrily around his vista. He did this several times, whether he was hoping to find another male or was searching for any spot out of the eyeshot of the Buzzard! After all they do eat insects and a Purple Emperor would make quite a decent snack I suspect! I did not think there were any others around as there weren’t any chases, to be seen. It was very windy in the canopy but the sun had come out again at 1310.
The male was quite content to sit in the tree top facing the sun with its wings open, you can always tell a male when it’s quite battered and bruised as they have a sort of brownish tinge to their colouration. He didn’t move again as the weather closed in again so I moved on hoping to find some more.
Buckshot Hole
Arrived with a sort vague excuse for some sunshine at 1330, and stayed here for about 20 minutes but there wasn’t anything on station.
Goose Green Inclosure
Arrived at 1340 and the weather was really just black clouds and breezy, with some sultry sunshine for a few minutes, but there wasn’t anything here. I stayed for up to forty-five minutes, but all is lost now for this season. It’s really been bad, a small purple patch during the Wimbledon fortnight, but the rest well I’ll just put it down to experience….it can’t get any worse can it?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Winding Down

The season appears to be winding down rapidly, especially in the south east which experienced a sequence of Vile days this week (until yesterday). I failed to see any males in the main territories in Southwater Woods, W Sussex, yesterday afternoon, and felt that they were all but over. Ageing females will certainly make the most of the good weather that has rather belatedly arrived.

Looking at the info that's come in from last year and this, and at my own diaries, it seems that one of the reasons why last year's egg lay was so poor was that the females appeared unusually late then (e.g. 8th July in W Sussex), only to suffer at the hands of the mid July gale - the St Swithun's Day Massacre. Yet, this year it seems that the females appeared much earlier, in numbers, and that the entire emergence was far more concertinaed (which is the correct spelling). Last year in Savernake, the species emerged over a 3 week period. This year, perhaps over some 10-12 days. Presumably this is because of the difference in time spent in the pupal stage between the two years.

Other snippets: it seems that the Emperor has had a good year at / around the introduced site in Suffolk. I'll post a fuller account later. He has also been recorded again in Dorset, at the site just inside the county border discovered last year. Still no news from Kent (which doesn't seem to have heard of thepurpleempire... ).

Meanwhile, here's a male high on territory in Alice Holt last weekend...