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 -