Sunday, December 30, 2012

Butterfly of the Year 2012

Further justification for awarding our Butterfly of the Year 2012 Award to Apatura iris, all photographed in Fermyn Woods on the Day of Miracles, 23rd July:-

Photo: Phil Beard

Photo: Phil Beard

Photo: Doug Goddard

Photo: Rev John Woolmer
Photo: Me (Herself again)

Best Wishes to All Followers of the Purple Empire for 2013.  Mille trahens varios adverso sole colores...

Friday, December 28, 2012

Butterfly of the Year 2012

We are pleased to announce that His Imperial Majesty, the Emperor of the Woods, the Monarch of all the Butterflies, the High Spirit of the Midsummer Trees, The One of Whom the Nightingale Sings, to list but a few of the Purple Emperor's many illustrious titles, has once again won our Butterfly of the Year award.  The general standard during 2012 was of course low, and our butterfly only emerged in disappointing numbers and went on to produce a desirory number of autumn larvae.  However, 2012 was the year in which iris varred, spectacularly.  At least seven acutely aberrant specimens were seen, in three counties.  Four of these were photographed.  And that, gentlemen and Lady, is championship material, at least for a year without a summer, wherein few of other butterflies did anything other than badly (Euphrosyne, Aglaja, Atalanta and Coridon also performed well, at least locally).

Here is one of those aberrations, a splendid female ab. lugenda photographed in Fermyn Woods on 23rd July -

And here is Herself's underside -

We are also pleased to announce that, by mutual agreement, 2012 has been terminated early.  Bring on 2013!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Hobbit

We are looking forward to Film 2 of The Hobbit (The Desolation of Smaug) next Christmas.  If this second film is as true to the book as the first, then His Imperial Majesty will make some sort of appearance, for Chapter 8 of The Hobbit includes the passage:

'In the end he poked his head above the roof of leaves, and then he found spiders all right.  But they were only small ones of ordinary size, and they were after the butterflies.  Bilbo's eyes were nearly blinded by the light.  He could hear the dwarves shouting up at him from far below... he saw all  round him a sea of dark green, ruffled here and there by the breeze; and everywhere there were hundreds of butterflies.  I expect they were a kind of purple emperor, a butterfly that loves the tops of oak-woods, but these were not purple at all, they were a dark dark velvety black without any markings to be seen.'

Of course, People of Purple Persuasion know exactly what The Preciouss truly is... 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Brother Quercus

For the last 8 years I've monitored Purple Hairstreak eggs along a section of drooping oak boughs on the south-facing edge of Flisteridge Wood, an ancient woodland site on the Oxford Clay in N Wilts.  Counts have taken place in Dec / Jan.  Habitat conditions have remained stable, with an abundant supply of large thick bud clusters.  Here's the data -

2005     26 eggs in 1 hr 50   (too quick, = ~36)
2006     44             3 hrs
2007     30             3 hrs
2008     42             3 hrs 5 mins
2009     79             3 hrs 5 mins
2010     39             3 hrs 30 mins
2011     38             3 hrs 25 mins
2012       0             3 hrs 5 mins

Clearly, something has gone seriously wrong with Brother Quercus here this year.  I'd anticipated 30-35 eggs, largely on account of the good week we had in late July.  I can only put this collapse down to the impact of the bad early July on the adults.

I did something similar in Hartley Wood, near Selborne in Hampshire, during the mid 70s to late 80s, but never drew a blank, though numbers fell from a massive 226 in 1976 to 12 in 1977. 

Message, don't expect to see hoards of Purple Hairstreaks next year...  The legacy of 2012 is dawning...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Iris on the Beeb

In addition to a pleasant mention on Radio 4's Saving Species programme this week (re Knepp Castle estate, West Sussex -thanks to Charlie Burrell) Britain's premier butterfly made a spectacular appearance on George McGavin's Miniature Britain last night.  These clips were out-takes from filming at Goose Green Old Car Park, Alice Holt Forest, in 2009. 

Interesting to see that the male landing on an oak leaf almost landed head on, they usually do a backward flip at the last mini-second, and land backwards.  

Here's the Iplayer link (on for a week).  Scroll to 13 mins 28 secs. 

Knepp Castle estate web site is interesting:  see

Saturday, December 8, 2012


Following Doug's very recent post, I thought I would immediately follow up his post with some extreme close up iris detail images which have been obtained during some of the various SEM sessions that I performed on iris and other Apaturinae specimens:

Picture 1 is a relative close up of an iris pilliform scale laying across some iridescent pigment scales.

Picture 2 is closer view of these two scales. Note the pigment scale membrane arches (in the background). It is the light refraction pattern caused by the depth of these arches which induces the iridescent nature of the iris/Apaturinae pigment scales.

I link to the science here:

Picture 3 is an extreme close up of one of the pigment scales. Note here the multi-layered lamelae (scale ridges). This image also enables a clearer view of the arch depths which here can clearly be seen, raised above the scale back/base.

I have 100's of such images, some of which illustrate the discovery of some new data, never previously documented for ANY known Lepidoptera (publication awaits). Should however any more freely available images be required, please just let me know and I'll be more than happy to oblige.

BTW: In response to an earlier post made against myself back on Christmas eve 2010, true science takes time. Truth will eventually prevail...



There is a splendid close up of wing scales of a male Iris on Page 8 of the current Radio Times (December 8 - 14) as a taster for a programme Minature Britain to be broadcast on BBC1 next Wednesday at 8 p.m. It should be well worth a look.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Miss Iris Hulme

We're proud to display the following photograph of Miss Iris Mia Hulme -

Another Wild Larva

Bit worried about this one (14th Nov): he's not matching his background -

Though he has changed round (1st Dec)-

The point is that these hibernating wild larvae are highly vulnerable to tit predation.  The only defence they have is matching their background perfectly...

Folks:  It's time for Purple Emperor Photo of the Year 2012.  Post your entries here...

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Larval Doings

Quick update on how His Imperial Majesty is doing in the wild, in and around Savernake.  The 2012 egg lay there was very poor, seemingly a little lower than 2011's - so very few autumn larvae. 

Larvae went into hibernation there between Oct 25th and >Nov 14th (when I found a larva still on a leaf seat pad, the latest I've found this in the wild).  Only two are hibernating next to buds this year, the majority are in forks or on scars of old twigs.  None was lost to predation during November. 

Here's a cracker -

And this is Cleopatra, a female Brimstone spotted hibernating in a small loose bramble patch in a warm, sheltered and sunny glade.  We'll be following her all the way -

Monday, November 19, 2012

Iris on the Wireless

Iplayer link to Hulme & Oates's eulogy of His Imperial Majesty as broadcast in In Pursuit of the Ridiculous on Fri Nov 16th. 

Listen if you dare...

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Old Abberation

Spotted this for sale on eBay - an un-named aberration collected in Hampshire in 1952 by C W  Burnard - interestingly either the type male show is a very large specimen or the abberation is particularly small?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Superb Bilateral Gynandromorph

Scarlet Mormon Papilio rumanzovia accidentally bred this year at Butterfly World Project near St Albans.  Photo courtesy of Louise Hawkins at BWP.

What we want of course is the equivalent in iris - flat on the deck, pristine, wings open, Fermyn Woods, early July 2013 - with Neil Hulme half a mile away down the other ride... 

Reminder: In Pursuit of the Ridiculous 1.45pm, Radio 4, daily from 12th - 16th Nov, the last 15 mins episode featuring Neil Hulme, myself and His Imperial Majesty the Lord of all the Butterflies on Fri 16th.  No repeat but available on Iplayer. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

2012 Egg Lay

Have finished my annual searches for ova & larvae in & around Savernake Forest.  Conclusion, the 2012 'egg lay' was almost exactly the same as is 2011 (i.e. lousy).  Data -

     2009     141
     2010      56
     2011      24
     2012      23

This is determined by ~40 hours of systematic searching for ova & larvae in a standardised manner, in the same areas, in relatively stable habitat conditions. 

Note that the Savernake data are not representative of any UK trend, as the butterfly had a patchy season in 2012 - being generally poor (as in Savernake) but faring much better in some other areas (e.g. Bucks / Oxon and Bookham Common).

About half the larvae are now in hibernation, but the odd one is still in Lincoln green and one (green) larva was actually observed feeding yesterday (3rd November) - the latest I've seen one feeding.  Here's a photo of a classic (wild) autumn larva hiding in a leaf tip rain drip -

NB  In Pursuit of the Ridiculous  Radio 4  Fri 16th Nov  1.45pm  
15 mins of Purple Affairs...

Friday, November 2, 2012

Iris on the Wireless

First Notification:  His Imperial Majesty will make a dramatic appearance on the wireless, on BBC Radio 4 at 1.45pm on Fri November 16th.  

In Pursuit of the Ridiculous examines point and pointlessness in natural history obsessions.  A series of five 15 minute programmes will be broadcast between the World At One and The Archers during the week starting November 12th. 

The final, explosive and conclusive episode features Hulme & Oates and our obsession with the Monarch of all the Butterflies.  After the broadcast, Hulme and Oates will undoubtedly be sectioned...

Other episodes concern an obsession with the pointless water beetle Agabus brunneus, pointlessness in orchid hybridisation, the futility of twitching, and a banal interest in slugs...

(Mr Hulme is currently helping police with their inquiries)

Riddle of the Purple Emperor

This is a sanitised spin-off of the erotic classic by Hulme & Oates.  The original is, of course, a true story...

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Herts & Middx data 2012 season

Attached to this post is a chart that Andrew has created using our all time data compared with this season's...........Our first signting this year was 4th July 2012 and last 22nd August 2012

correction to last sighting Upper Thames

The last sighting was on August 17th. A female was seen feeding on leakage from a rubbish bin outside the pro's shop at Temple golf club near Hurley, Berks. This is about 1/4 mile from the nearest wood.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Summary 0f 2012 season in Upper Thames [berks/bucks/oxon]

Matthew hates statistics, but how else can you summarize a season so that others can have a comparison with their region?? Started 2 to 3 weeks later than usual. I had a fleeting glimpse of a high flier with Wendy Campbell in Naphill Common on July 4th, but it didn't really start properly until July 8th. The peak was during the 5 days from July 22nd till July 26th, when 123[44%!] of the total sightings [276] were made. This is about 17 days later than the normal peak. Six new habitats were identified including two interesting ones: Wildmoor Heath and Decoy Heath in Berkshire: both heathland BBOWT reserves. The last was seen [tired old lady in Doddershall Wood] on August 14th, making it a 5 week season: fairly normal. But 28 sightings in August was a record for this month. This was in fact the second best season [393 sightings in 2010] during the last 9 nine years. So, iris is a very British animal: lousy weather to start with may put it off for a while, but it gets over it and triumphs in the end.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Gentlemen, the attached junk American art is deeply offensive.  We are, consequently, now at war with the United States (we should never have lost the Americas in the first place) -

Autumn Tints

His Imperial Majesty, The Monarch of all the Butterflies, the Emperor of the Woods (etc. the rest simply don't count) is preparing for winter - somewhat earlier than usual.  Two wild larvae were in hibernation yesterday (20th Oct, joint earliest wild hibernation date in 4 years recording), and nearly all other larvae were well coloured up.  This isn't surprising as tree leaves are changing colour and falling earlier than normal this year (not surprising after such a rotten summer...).

Here's a larva starting to change colour on a fading leaf.  Unusually, it's not on the leaf tip -

And here's an autumn larva actually doing something - spinning up the stem of his seat / feeding leaf to the twig.  As autumn advances larvae regularly strengthen the join of their leaf, for obvious reasons.  Not the best shot of a larva but the silk is quite obvious.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

2012 Egg Lay

It looks very much as though the number of ova laid this year in and around Savernake Forest, Wiltshire, is slightly lower than in 2011 - which itself was a very poor egg lay year.  I haven't finished the task of searching yet but doubt that I'll match last year's tally.  The distribution of eggs and larvae in the forest is very different this time round, with several being found outside the forest. 

Eight days of hot sunny weather from 22nd July, when the butterfly was at peak season, should perhaps have led to a better egg lay than this.  But adults were in miserably low numbers here this season and the females do not actually like excessively hot weather.

Larval development is currently behind on the previous three years, which is hardly surprising given the late flight season.  However, the sallow trees are turning autumnal unusually early.  These guys need to hurry up!  Here's a larva from today -

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Autumn Larvae

Brief report.  I'm two-thirds through my annual survey of eggs and larvae in / around Savernake Forest.  The egg lay there looks as poor as last year's, probably even worse, but I live in hope of finding a major concentration.  To date, I've found more outside the forest than inside it... 

There's a lot of Sallow Mildew around this autumn, due to the wet summer.  It's not good for the larvae at all. 

This poor larva was on a badly infected spray, and was promptly rescued...

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Purple Emperor Chiffon Scarfe

What to buy him / her / us for Christmas.  It's quite nice.  

Beating the odds

Any elephants in the Empire will remember I found just one iris egg this year, which hatched into a tiny person I named Tiberius. I lost Tiberius in his second instar, in September, despite examining every single accessible leaf on his sallow tree on three different occasions. Today I found him again, now in his third instar:

I speculate he spent much of his second instar higher up the tree where I couldn't see him and has now been driven lower again either by the leaves dying off sooner up there or by the lousy weather we've had recently.

Whatever, it's good to see him. What are the odds of finding a single egg, just after it was laid, and for the caterpillar still to be around two months later?


Sunday, September 30, 2012

Purple Post Boxes

Clearly, the breeding of Apatura iris is widespread, as Purple post boxes are springing up all over the place.  This was snapped by Andy Wyldes in a Northamptonshire village -

Saturday, September 22, 2012


The Executive Committee of the People of Purple Persuasion met today and determined that, to honour the Olympic year in which iris varred spectacularly, post boxes in parishes in which iris is being reared should the painted Purple. 

Will all those currently rearing iris kindly paint their local post boxes purple.

Signed, in Purple blood

Matthew Oates
General Secretary

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Oates's Diary 23/7/2012

Mon July 23rd

Perfect! Cloudless, 23C, low humidity. Calm till late morning when a M W wind sprang up which died around 7pm.

Lady & Souther Woods, Fermyn Woods. 9.50-5.30.

One of my best day’s Emperoring ever, one that will linger and even grow in the mind. Left home at 7.30 and managed to get past wretched Oxford with no more inconvenience than a bad tempered aggregates lorry driver. Then, incredibly, I managed to drive through Fermyn Wood proper without disturbing any butterfly photographers (one group doing White-letter Hairstreaks on the Cherry Lap wych elm) and without disturbing any Purple Emperors (I put up a White Admiral instead). As I was entering Paradise I failed to recognise Phil Corley, let alone offer him a lift. We met up later, though he never forgave me. Also met Doug and Andy, and numerous others of Purple Persuasion.

Lady Wood Head leapt to greet me, like the returning prodigal son. Straight in on a fresh male Purple Emperor V-shaped on the ride just inside the gate, only he flew off as I stopped. Then, at 10.03, before the end of the poplars I spotted, at 75m distance, through the car windscreen, a very black butterfly descending to the ride surface. I knew it instantly, at that distance, as a dark aberration. What I didn’t realise was that it was female. I stopped instantly. As I got out of the car gingerly she settled briefly on my front number plate (which means that my car is now officially beatified) before alighting on a nearby damp patch of bare ride (females usually favour vegetated ride surfaces). She fed there, wings open and closed, and crawling about quite actively for ~10 mins, attended by one devout servant only. Then as various other servants approached she ascended to a x reichardtii sallow a few metres away – and sat there wings closed for 42 mins, during which time she attracted a fair crowd who managed some moderate photos of her sublime underside – only there was a leaf in the way. Suddenly, she took off and flew away southwards at 5-6m height, into and through the Corsican pine plantation, inspecting a sallow en route before vanishing. I obtained reasonable photos of her upperside and some excellent ones of her underside. She was later confirmed as ab lugenda.

She was seen again close by, briefly, at 12.41, egg-laying high up on a sub-canopy spray of a mature x reichardtii sallow along the line of poplars. This is not the first time I've seen an aberrant iris female egg-laying, I saw one in Straits Inclosure in early July 1976. And I will so it again.

At 11.10, during a flurry of male activity, I saw a pristine male ab iolata flying along the summit section of the E Ride. He almost settled on the ride a couple of times, so I saw his upperside well – only he then flew off sallow searching. He was photographed on the ride there ca noon by Doug Goddard. The ghastly truth is that I may well have walked past him and ignored him settled there wings closed, for the underside was almost type – Doug initially ignored him, leaving him to another photographer, only to realise and rectify the mistake when the insect flashed his wings at him as he was passing. There’s a lesson here somewhere.

I went on to see ~33 males and 4-5 females during the whole day. During the morning I saw ~13 males and 2 females. There was a significant flurry of activity along the E Ride from 11.00-11.20 when I saw 8 males, 4 down feeding on the ride and a couple seemingly establishing territories on the taller scrub oaks. I then saw 4 males and a lovely female down on moist ground along the W Ride en route to dumping things at the cottages. The female was pristine and was happily imbibing from the edge of a shallow puddle. Iris had invaded the cottages – Kenny had a male feeding on his gloriously antiquated camper van ca 11.15.

I returned to the woods at 12.10, remaining there till 5.30, working the E and W rides mainly. I saw ~20 males and 2-3 females during this time. Males were seen down on the rides at 12.10 (a tatty male at BB Corner), 12.20, 3.20, 3.30 (for 20 mins, including settling and feeding on myself and Phil Corley near E Ride Pond) and 4.35. In addition, I nearly trod on a female feeding by a deep puddle along High Seat 381 Ride at 2.05 – she shot off, affronted, and I said #~$%!*&%@!!!, but at least it wasn’t a Sunday. This is a grassy ride, and she was hidden. In addition, Phil and I watched a lovely male feeding briefly on HS 381 at 2.08. During the day the puddles dried up.

A little oak-edging activity was seen along W Ride and the Summit stretch of E Ride between 12.30 – 1.30, but I was disappointed by how little of this activity I saw today. At least 4 males were on territory along HS381 Ride, including a pair of clashing males (1.35-2.45), probably 5. But none along HS382 ride, where there are two good territories which have been occupied in all previous years. At least 3 males were on territory around oak clumps in the jungle directly opposite the entrance to HS381 Ride, off E Ride, one of which had a successful fight with a Brown Hawker, plus a probable but distant female. Little sallow-searching activity today, which was surprising.

They definitely quietened down after 4.30, though I saw a sallow-searching male at 5.00 along W Ride, and at 5.03 spotted a worn and torn male feeding from a weak oak sap run high up along W Ride.

I finished at 5.30 as the wind had become rather prohibitive, so I retreated to the cottages where sanity was not particularly evident. I should have gone back out for the evening flight when the wind died down after 7pm but had had too much Pimms by then. Instead, iris came to me – for from 7.40-7.50 a worn male had a fantastic time feeding from me and from the motley collection of cars parked outside the cottages. This suggests there was a good hour of evening flight today.

Today was definitely Big Bang Day (main emergence day) in Fermyn Woods.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Fermyn 23/7/12

Phil Corley's lovely blog account of Big Bang Day in Fermyn Woods, 23/7/12.  Fantastic images -

Monday, September 10, 2012

Brown Hairstreak Blog

Delighted to announce that the Brown Hairstreak, also known as Cousin Betulae, now has its own blog, by courtesy of our very own Gillian Thompson.  See :)  Like the Purple Empire, it will function all year round.  Share and enjoy!

Gill is considering producing a blog for His Grace the Duke of Burgundy...  But the Purple Emperor remains First and Foremost...

Monday, September 3, 2012


Yesterday, 2nd September, I received a report from David and Sally Irven that a female iris had been seen in Salcey Forest in the same area where they had seen five males on territory earlier in the season. This is the first recorded sighting in Northants for this month as far as I am aware.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Suffolk update

Rob Parker, Suffolk recorder has emailed me the following update for publication on the Purple Empire -
I have done a bit of asking around, and can now offer an update for you to post on the Purple Empire:
On 28th July, Matthew Oates wrote: Incidentally, we have received no reports from the introduced population in Suffolk this year. How's it doing? Also, we never receive any reports from Kent, or on the introduced population in Essex. News welcome on these fronts... SUFFOLK UPDATE Since John Quinn made his freelance introductions at Theberton Wood circa 2001-2004, and the population became public knowledge in 2005, iris has continued to fly in that small wood. John agreed not to make any further releases thereafter so that we could be confident that it really was self-sustaining. Happily, they went from strength to strength, and observers watched them 2005-2011, whilst forestry work thinned the conifers, retained most of the sallows and opened rides and canopy somewhat. A number of sightings were also made at RSPB Minsmere (just 3 miles away to the northeast) suggesting that the population was doing very nicely, and in 2011, one male turned up at North Warren, 6 miles to the south east. Enthusiasm continued after John's death, and Theberton Wood is tended by Sam, a forester who is generally to be found amongst the July enthusiasts. It is understood that he was involved in a sallow cutting operation, presumably in 2011, after which a thorough search of the fallen branches discovered iris larvae, and 11 were taken into captivity to overwinter safely. Apparently they survived very well, as Sam was able to release at least 4 in the first week of July 2012, separately, as they emerged, and possibly before the wild population had taken to the wing in a year of extraordinary fluctuations of weather that would probably have delayed emergence of the wild population. It is unfortunate that this release has masked the performance of the truly wild population, but it can be argued that they were Theberton stock that would otherwise have perished. The Emperor was certainly observed at Theberton in 2012, but as usual, valid counts are difficult to obtain, and the County Butterfly Recorder has not received many sighting reports or subjective judgments of population strength. The best, on 26th July, identified 4 separate females (3 with distinctive damage, and one fresh-looking perfect specimen) and one male - a minimum of 5 still flying at that date, and the females engaged in apparent egg-laying behaviour. Can anyone correct or add to this? I do not have a phone or email contact for Sam (or even know his surname). When I visited in July, I had missed him by 20 minutes. I am not in touch with Eileen Quinn either, but I would like to be able to provide Matthew Oates with a more authoritative answer. Sam made no secret that he had taken 11 PE and 5 SWF (presumed chrysalises or maybe caterpillars) into captivity to be overwintered. But I do not know whether he released the same numbers. I think the date of Sam's release was 6th July 2012, but am not certain that this was a one-off event. Rob Parker

Bookham Closes Down

Not being content with seeing the first Purple Emperor of the year (on 29th June) the immortal combination of Bookham Common and Ken Willmott now claims the last!  A single male was seen there by Ken on Sun 26th August, though none was seen there yesterday (28th).  'In my end is my beginning'.

Can someone please push for a September iris?  I managed it in 1977. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

It probably is over in Hertfordshire?

After a warm sunny morning, arrived at the Northaw assembly area this afternoon to be greeted with a 30 minute bank of cloud, to right and left blue sky but not where I was watching! At 2.40 I had 30 minutes of 100% sunshine followed by a further 20 minutes of sunny moments.............the only activity in the assembly area was by two imposters - Red Admirals that flew up high clashing! Otherwise sadly nothing - Liz

Monday, August 27, 2012

Last Upper Thames sighting was on August 19th in Little Wood by Mick Campbell. The first in this wood was seen on July 8th, making a flight season of 6 weeks in this wood. The first sighting in this region was on July 4th. I had a surprising experience, looking for larvae yesterday, in a mid-Bucks wood. See picture [zoom in to read writing!]: on the big old broad leaved Sallow on the left of the ride I found one larva; on 25th July a female spent some time in and around this Sallow. On the other side of the ride, exactly opposite, is a narrow leaved Sallow; to my delight and astonishment I found 7 larvae [both 1st and 2nd instar] and one egg here. I've never before found more than two larvae/eggs on one Sallow in the UK, and I've no idea why this particular Sallow was favoured.

Another Aberration

Male 'semi-iole' photographed by Doug Goddard in Fermyn Woods on 23rd July, 'Big Bang' day in Fermyn.  I saw it in close by flight, but it wouldn't settle for me...

The nightmare truth is that I may well have walked past it when it was feeding on the ride, wings closed, for there is little to tell from the underside that it was a variation (white bar on hind wing somewhat reduced, and slightly less of the reddish-brown surround too).  The lesson is obvious, check each specimen... -

I know of at least nine iris aberrations that were seen this year: seven in Fermyn Woods, Northants, and singletons in Bentley Wood (possibly two), Wiltshire, and at Knepp Castle estate in West Sussex.  Most were photographed.

And at this stage it looks as though the last iris of the year was seen in Herts on 23rd Aug...  Any more late sightings?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

More from Sir Vauncy Harpur Crewe

A rather nice black selene next to an acute paphia. 

A day's takings in the New Forest in mid July 1910.  Like all collectors Sir Vauncy had it in for poor valezina...

Friday, August 24, 2012

Fat Lady Time in Savernake

I failed to see any males in the main territories in and around Savernake yesterday afternoon and suspect that the season may have ended there, somewhat suddenly as two males in reasonable condition were battling away in the best territory on Sunday 19th. 

Worse, initial searchings for ova & larvae on some of the most favoured trees have been decidedly disappointing.  I fear that the 'egg lay' there has been very low, which surprises me as the females have had a decent run of good laying days - more reasonable laying days than in the last two flight seasons together.  We shall find out...

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Exam Results

As thousands of British schoolchildren were getting their GCSE results this morning, Tiberius was poised nervously on a leaf in a shady corner of a Swiss wood, waiting for his:

At about lunchtime he got them - and he had passed! Yippee! Here he is at 20h00 today, in his new class, freshly showered by an alpine storm:

If I can find him I will take better pictures tomorrow during daylight.

He spent 12 full days in the first instar (today being his 13th day), the last two immobile on the same leaf while his shoulder patch (with the horns inside, I'm reliably informed) grew. He seemed to eat quite heartily during the first ten days but rarely on his resting leaf - there was evidence of nibbling on lots of other leaves. He changed resting leaf three times in total.


EDIT: a couple of pictures in natural light from 24th August, day 14 (with an inset from day 1 in the first):

It still ain't over yet in Hertfordshire

At 2pm this afternoon after a morning of sunshine, a rather tatty male flew across the Northaw assembly area but didn't stop! It then went cloudy so Andrew came home. Liz

The Science Behind Larval Wandering…

In response to the comments (Re: The Mysteries of Pupation) in Matthews’ recent ”British Wildlife” journal article, I thought I’d high light a couple of important articles which have already explored this ‘mystery’ in some detail. Links are below:

Although the experimental work (mentioned above), was admittedly conducted using Manduca sexta, as stated by the authors, their findings relating to larval wandering behavior are expected to be analogous across other Lepidoptera species. In summary, the take home message from the experimental work conducted by Dominick and Truman appears to be as follows: Similar with the induction of diapause (see my previous “Larval Diapause” purpleempire post, 6th November 2011), pre-pupation larval wandering appears to be induced and controlled by the dose and the duration of release of the insect moulting hormone 20-Hydroxyecdysone (or Ecdysone as it is more commonly referred), in the inverse proportional absence of another insect hormone (Juvenile hormone). Release of 20-Hydroxyecdysone (from the corpus allatum) within the larvae is itself influenced/controlled by photoperiod and occurs in three distinct pulses. The second of these 20-Hydroxyecdysone pulses appears to be highly influenced by the duration of the scotophase (night) cycle, 15 hours prior to the initiation of wandering. Although this initiation trigger is also likely to exist within the Apaturinae, the specifics regarding the duration of the scotophase cycle involved in the trigger are likely to highly species specific.

The experiments performed by Dominick and Truman also showed that the initiation (not stoppage) of wandering in 5th instar larvae could be prevented by the pre-wandering administration of Juvenile hormone. Unfortunately however the administration of Juvenile hormone to these larvae also consequently prevented any subsequent developmental (i.e. pupation) progression.

In light of the comments mentioned within these papers, I suppose that the take home message from these publications, relative to the ‘disappearance’ of mature, pre-pupation iris larvae, is that it is all part of nature taking its natural course and aside from caging specimens, there unfortunately doesn’t appear to be very much that we can do to prevent or stop it. Although certainly not ideal, I suppose the injection of internal, digital tags of some kind (the cogs are still slowly turning with respect to this one) could potentially provide some invaluable insights as to the ultimate wandering locations which are preferentially chosen by these larvae as natural pupation sites. Certainly food for further mental processing…


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Sir Vauncy Harpur Crewe

Sir Vauncy Harpur Crewe (1846-1924) was a serial collector of Everything.  His main house, Calke Abbey near Ashby de la Zouch, is preserved by the National Trust as a crumbling monument to Victorian collecting ideology. 

He had the habit of descending on the New Forest in July, taking over the Crown Hotel at Lyndhurst, and bagging an inclosure - keeping out the riff-raff for a week or two by stationing flunkeys at all entrances.  Unfortunately, curation wasn't his strongest forte and most of his collections seem to have fallen apart.  Also, there are few data labels.

I visited Calke today to look at the remains of his great collection, in particular and obviously iris.  Unfortunately, I could find only a small series, of unusually large females taken in the Forest ca 1900 - 

These are seriously Big Girls by the way.  I've got the horrid feeling that some of the store boxes containing nothing but empty pins are all that remains of his main iris collection but will return another day to do a proper search and inventory. 

Pride of place in his collection is this amazing cardui var featured in Newman -

Finally, here's a tray of paphia vars taken in the Forest during the immortal summer of 1983 (think 1976, and double it) -

More from Sir Vauncy another time...

Ain't over at Bookham either!

Bookham Common opened the 2012 UK iris season back on 29th June.  Yesterday, 20th August, at least one male was still present in the Hill Farm territory there - 53 days on!  Thanks to Ken Willmott for the record. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Certainly ain't over yet in Sav!

An Extreme Butterflying day, with a memorable ending. 

Began with an early morning visit to Shipton Bellinger Roughs, West Hampshire, in hope of seeing Brown Hairstreaks pairing (only the 24 I saw all seemed male, and they had quietened right down by 11am).  Then off to Broughton Down in hope of seeing Silver-spotted Skippers laying eggs, only they were few and far between, hyper-active and inapproachable in oven-like weather, but I did see some egg-laying females.  (Memo: don't work SSS in extreme heat, it makes them hyper).

En route home I dropped in at Savernake at 3.45, and was delighted to see two frayed males slugging it out at the Dead Beech Glade (No 1 territory), where there was only a single male yesterday.  There must be several days left in the flight season here, though this may be my final encounter with the Monarch of all the Butterflies this season.

And the ending?  Counted 65 Peacocks on Buddleias in our garden at 5.15!

It ain't over yet (in Hertfordshire)!

After a day that started by looking for Brown Hairstreaks over the border! We arrived back at Northaw at 1.30 just after a short deluge. Within seconds of looking what appeared to be a very frail old man turned up, who did a few twirls and flew off. Returned again only to be accompanied by a very smart young man but the frail old man was in hot pursuit and not vice versa! They did a few big twirls and then the larger Emperor took over. Only for a short while later for the smaller Emperor to return. When viewed through the binoculars he wasn't frail just very small and still appeared to be perfectly formed! The smaller male made less appearances but we were quite surprised to see two active Emperors at the Northaw territory on the 19th August when our first sighting there had been on the 4th July! These certainly hadn't got a battering in the recent winds although I believe our side of the country didn't get it quite so bad? Liz with Andrew and Laurence

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Final Hobby Outrage

This hot afternoon I went to the Savernake area to do what comes naturally to someone of Purple pursuasion this late in the season, whilst listening to an enthralling day's play in the Lords test match.  

A worn male was present in the Dead Beech Glade, the No 1 territory in Sav, but there was no one for him to play with - no birds or hornets were flying through, and it was very hot - so he was quiescent, wings closed.  I probably saw a second male, briefly and from a distance, at another territory about 200m away. 

Moving to another favoured area, a cathedral of towering beech trees, one worn male was reasonably active, suggesting there might have been another close by.  England were fighting back well, which is when the outrage occurred: a Hobby came patrolling by over the giant beeches, iris duly launched himself, albeit rather lazily, and was promptly nabbed.  

This is the second such outrage involving this thug of a bird this season, after an similar strike witnessed by Rob Hill at Bookham Common.  Clearly, Hobby numbers must be reduced, I'm joining Songbird Survival - I WANT TO SEE SOME PREDATOR CONTROL ...

This reminds me of an outrage that occurred at the end of the (very good) 2002 season at Alice Holt.  Just after Hoggard had bowled Tendulkar and then Ganguly first ball, on the afternoon of 28th July, a pair of Spotted Flycatchers ganged up on a stroppy male - he launched himself at one of them, but the other came up from below and took him.  2 wings spiralled slowly to the ground.  I am still outraged...

Friday, August 17, 2012

Last Sightings?

This weekend could well bring the last sightings of the 2012 season (Wednesday's gale in western parts of the Empire may have knocked lingering adults out). 

The race is on: who will see the last of the year? 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

More Sussex Silliness

There are not many Emperors in the traditional woodland sites of Sussex this year, perhaps because they've all left in disgust and have decided to spread themselves evenly across the entire county. Here's another report of a misplaced singleton, this time from Richard Roebuck on 12th August.

"I then went to check out Wolstonbury Hill to look for Silver-spotted skippers - previous visits recently had drawn a blank. I parked at Pyecombe Street and as normal set off up the track which leads to the bridleway. Part way up I suddenly froze, as sat on the corner of a garden Flint wall was a female Purple Emperor. It was hot and the sun was beating down she was there just gently opening and closing her wings at 12.50p.m. She was sat directly under a tall Buddleia in full flower, but immediately next to her were three wheelie bins, one was slightly open with Bluebottles flying in and out, she was showing a bit of wear around the tips of her forewings but otherwise was in good condition. She took off flew round me once and then flew straight over the roof of a house opposite. She had flown some 50 feet upwards in seconds. I waited around for a bit, my camera was still in its bag, that weird feeling as what to do now descended on me yet again. Anyway she was gone heading south perhaps towards the Bright lights of Brighton? Then the questions, where had she come from, the wind direction suggested perhaps from the wooded side of Newtimber Hill opposite or perhaps woods slightly further away where I saw another Purple Emperor flying up whilst walking up a road a couple of weeks back. Most intriguingly, what was in that Bin?"

Gale Warning

A bit worried that the forecast strong winds could close the 2012 Purple Emperor season.  This butterfly has a bad track record at surviving strong winds - hardly surprising as it roosts high up in tall trees. 

The following interesting sightings have been reported -

A tattered male on an oak sap run at Hale Purlieu on the NW edge of the New Forest, 5th August, Dr Sue Clarke.  

A windblown male around and then settling on the Chilterns Gateway centre building on Dunstable Downs, Beds, on 4th August, Jon Powell. 

Sex uncertain, doing a twirl around an oak tree at Cookham & Maidenhead Commons at 6pm on 9th August, Pete Brash. 

Keep them coming, the sillier the better...

Monday, August 13, 2012

Doings in Dorset

Dorset only came out and declared itself Purple three years ago, when a small population was discovered in Cranborne Chase, close to the Wiltshire border.  Despite much effort by BC Dorset members, only two sightings were made in the Dorset part of the Chase this year. 

This further backs up the overal picture of a very patchy season, with reasonable or even quite good numbers in a few districts but low or very low numbers elsewhere, with all the smaller populations having particularly poor seasons. 

A proper summary of the season will appear on this blog when more information comes in - feel free to wing stuff in, purely to be shared on this blog.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Slightly Less Irritating

I'm sure some people will like this vase but I would prefer it if commercial artists in the USA would kindly leave England's national butterfly alone - the butterfly means quite a lot to quite a few of us over here...

Deeply Insulting

The Race Is On...

To see the last iris of 2012.  It could be you...  The last Emperor might be doing this (or anything else unusual) -

My guess is that there's at least another week left in the season nationally.

Whatever, remember that this blog functions all year round, and that many enthusiasts post their summer photos after editing them during the darker months.

Saturday, August 11, 2012


Yesterday, 10th, while doing some general butterfly recording in Yardley Chase, I first of all came across this splendid-looking female in a grassy ride. She settled on a small piece of hazel a couple of feet above the ground and fed on honeydew for several minutes before gliding off in search of sallows further down the ride and disappearing from view. This was in Ravenstone Road Copse where the butterfly has been seen for the past three seasons.

I progressed to another section of the Chase, Olney Lane End, where I had not previously recorded iris. Another, this time more ragged, female flitted around the top of an oak before alighting to bask at the top of the tree in the sunshine.

Further along, a male flew over the top of the line of oaks which border this wood. This is the sixth section of Yardley provide sightings this year and the total of woods for the county containing iris in 2012 currently numbers seventeen. As well as the traditional Rockingham Forest sites, the Silverstone woods and Salcey Forest, where it re-appeared last year, there have been sightings in Pipewell and Brampton woods towards Market Harborough within a mile of the Leicestershire border. Are we soon to add another county to the Purple Empire?

Strange Doings In Sussex

Despite having suffered low Emperor numbers in Sussex this year we do seem to have made up for it in terms of strange and silly behaviour. Single sightings they may be ... but take a look at these three postings to the BC Sussex websites on 9th August, courtesy of Tom Forward, Jonathan Ruff and Barry Collins.

Another report came in today (9th) from Tom Forward who writes "I have never seen a Purple Emperor before, nor have I actively tried to seek one out - though have been meaning to do so for ages. Anyway, gathered outside the toilet block next to the main car park in Tilgate Park at 10am this morning, with a group of 20 excited children for a day of bushcraft, when a slightly tatty looking PE landed on the wall of the toilet block to bask and apparently pick up some salts from the mortar in the brick work. We all got a good look at it for a few minutes (why do I never have the camera with me when I need it!!!), before it did a couple of Red Arrow-esque fly-bys low over the kids heads and then made it's way off over the car park!" Will Tom s tatty Emperor be the last Sussex Emperor of 2012? (Michael Blencowe)
I noticed this large butterfly (above) in the garden today. I think it is a female Purple Emperor, but I have never seen one before, hopefully you can confirm indeed it is.... It nectared on the buddleia for several minutes ....... (Jonathan Ruff)

I decided to check a spot where I had seen a Purple Emperor some years ago on a minor road between Aldsworth Pond and Brickkiln Ponds SU760090. I had only just got out of the car when a male Purple Emperor landed on a fence post only feet away from where I was standing it remained there for a couple of minutes, giving me some fantastic views. Unfortunately I had no camera with me (Murphy's Law). It then flew onto some sallow for a while before alighting again and landed on my head briefly and then landed on yet another fence post. (Barry Collins)

Happy Birthday

It was a poor season in my local woods, at least partly because of some rather aggressive clearing of sallow by the foresters. I found just one egg, which hatched this morning into an eager little larva. I have named him Tiberius:

This is Tiberius yesterday, compressed like a Jack-in-the-box into his egg:

Prior to yesterday, the egg had looked quite different, with a dark band around the base and none around the top:


Friday, August 10, 2012

No Fat Lady in Bucks yet either

A large female in good condition drifting around sallows in a private mid-Bucks wood at 3pm this afternoon livened up an otherwise boring transect. 

Doings: 10th August

First thing, I worked Brother Betulae in hedge systems near Minety in north Wilts, searching for active males around hedgerow ash trees.  Males seem quite well out and in 'average' numbers, but no females today.  5 apparent males in 15 mins at one site, and 8 in an hour at the other, = normal.  I saw the first male in this district on 3rd Aug. 

Then over to Savernake for late season iris.  Failed to find them in two parts of the forest, former strongholds, but saw pairs of battling males in two of the main territories along Three Oak Hills Drive (leading up to the Column).  None at the Column itself, which has been disappointing this season and isn't a major territory anyway - but people go there to photograph males settling on the Column (a piece of 18th century bollocks).  Then I found a new territory, also at the southern end of the forest, again containing a battling pair. 

One of these territories is only used towards the end of the flight season.  I've seen my last individual of the year there for the last few years (bar 2011).  Has anyone else encountered an end of season territory?

So, I only found the butterfly where more than one male was present.  In hot weather, especially late in the season, solitary males can be almost comatose, unless something flies right past their nose or lands on them - multi-occupancy is almost essential for activity this late on.  All six of today's males were intact but somewhat worn.  The odd male should still be present here in a week's time, but this coming weekend is really last chance saloon time for anyone who hasn't seen iris yet this year. 

And as for Herself?  She's tricky in very hot weather late in the season.  So, not a sign of her - until I drove out on to the A4 and started towards Marlborough at 4pm.  There she was, flying westwards along the A4, 4m up, above the double white lines.  She then turned left into Savernake Hospital without signalling, where she undoubtedly created chaos... 

Continued activity in Hertfordshire & Middlesex

It certainly isn't over yet, activity at Whitewebbs (Middlesex) where 1 male was on territory , 2 males at Northaw, male activity at Fir & Pond just yards from the M25 all reported by Andrew Middleton and Laurence Drummond had activity at the site close to the A10 also in Hertfordshire.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

methyl mercaptan CH3SH

good grief! the Iris scientist wishes to use this as attractant? It is the most foul smelling substance it was ever my 'privilege' to encounter during my long career as an industrial chemist. As he says, it's a gas, so his only chance is to generate it 'in situ' at the site where he wants to attract iris. If he tries this, he may attract iris, but he will lose all his friends, because the stink attaches to you and takes ages to dissipate. No, the best idea is from the latest blog from Matthew: the alcohol fermented banana mash: luvly jubbly, as Dellboy was wont to say

Banana Bait

Has anyone actually tried Jens Stolt's fermented banana bait?  See  .  The photos and text are rather glorious - even by the standards of The Purple Empire... 

Sadly, iris seldoms comes down to feed in the cool, cloudy and showery weather that has dominated most of this season, and only descends rarely this late in the flight season.  If one or two of us are lucky, though, the odd individual may descend from on high in the forecast warm spell that's supposed to start tomorrow. 

Accounts and photos, please, on this blog...

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Cracked it, with virtually 100% Certainty...

With almost 100% (well 99.99%) certainty, I am more than just a little bit sure that
I have finally cracked the attractant for male emperors (well, iris and ilia at least). Immediate problems with the compound concerned and its late season 'discovery' however being that is only available in gaseous form, is only able to be purchased by commercial (not private) individuals and that there is now only a limited amount of the 2012 flight season still remaining. As I would consequently now REALLY love to test this compound, I therefore ask if (and I mean IF) I am able to acquire some of this compound, does anybody still any captive males that have not as yet eclosed and are up for the challenge?

Bookham Common Season

A summary of the season at Bookham Common, Leatherhead, based mainly on records from Ken Willmott, but also from Rob Hill, Robin Daniels, David Rayner and myself.  Two superb male territories have been used at Bookham for some 30 years, originally discovered by Ken (Hill Farm and Mark Oak), plus a small third territory by Mark Oak.

1st seen on 29th June at Hill Farm (one male, seemingly the first nationally).  This is probably an average start date for Bookham, though rather late by modern standards there.

No more seen until 5th July, despite vigilance, when 2 males were seen clashing and chasing at Hill Farm. 

11th July: 3 males chasing a pigeon at Hill Farm, but surprisingly inactive during a good sunny spell. 

12th July: 2 males at Hill Farm in poor weather.

17th July: 2-3 males at Hill Farm and 2 at Mark Oak, the first seen at the latter territory.

20th July: All three territories occupied.  Male photographed on ride.

22nd: Hobby takes one of a trio of fighting males at Hill Farm!  Outrage!  First eggs seen laid.  Decent weather at last!

24th: 4 males in vista at Hill Farm, 3 in vista at Mark Oak - probably ca 10 altogether.  Female seen egg laying at 11.25am (early, due to hot weather) and another at 4.10 (late, due to hot weather siesta). 

27th: Egg laying female.

1st Aug: I saw a lovely egg-laying female and a dark-looking territorial male during 15 mins visit to Mark Oak, en route to Box Hill. 

2nd & 3rd Aug: Spectacular mid afternoon activity in all territories, including vista of 6 at Hill Farm.  6 is officially Good (most years have a top count of 3-4).

Hobby again hunting over Hill Farm, on 3rd. 

In all, an above average season at Bookham, despite much poor weather.  And it's not finished quite yet...

Thanks to all, especially Ken. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Photo from 26th July. That's me in the purple top on the left being polite and waiting my turn, even though I wanted to push everyone out of the way! I don't think I need to tell you whose bike that is!

A mixture of PE pics from Bookham

Here's a mixture of shots taken over the past week or so at Bookham. The first shot is of a Hobby that caught one of two sparring males above my head at the Hill Farm territory. Here it can be seen about a minute later patrolling over the same spot. I did'nt see it take any more PEs that day but did see the return of a Hobby at the same place this last Friday. It had an unidentified insect in its claws but was much higher this time? The rest of the shots are a mixed bag of male and female behaviour.