Sunday, September 28, 2014

Female Mating Acceptance Posture!

After almost five years of research, with the aid of certain applied stimuli it would appear that it is now possible to trigger captive, non-gravid female Apatura to adopt the well accepted mating acceptance posture:

Many more experiments await. However, for references of acceptance postures please refer to the following links: Langlois (1964), Nishida (1996), Wantanabe (2011). The links can be found below:

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Paean for Chattenden

Those of you who know your butterflying history will be instantly roused by the name of Chattenden, for Great Chattenden Wood (to give it its full name) was the premier collecting venue for London collectors during the mid to late Victorian era.  In particular, it was the most cherished collecting ground for the Purple Emperor, producing a vast number of specimens and some acute aberrations -

Taken ca 1870, and  -

Taken in July 1878, and described as ab. chattendeni by Heslop; and -

The frontispiece for Frohawk's Variations, taken in 1866. 

Chattenden was the Fermyn of its day.

There are some amazing descriptions of Emperoring at Chattenden, in Frohawk and Tutt.  These are quoted in Heslop (1964).  Tutt (1896) states, 'In the 'seventies' A. iris was the insect of Chattenden Woods'.  He continues that males and females: 'had a custom of flying for a few hours (11am to 3pm) to the highest point of the wood, and soaring around a few oaks that topped the hill.  Here they settled and became easy prey.  With a large ring net on the end of a long hop-pole about twelve or fourteen feet in length ... we have seen as many as nine amateur collectors standing in a line at three or four yards distance, and netting every specimen as it came up ... in one year (1881) alone, some two or three hundred specimens were captured.  Such are the depths to which entomology has been reduced.  Needless to say, the insect is now practically extinct in these woods.'

Frowhawk (1924) writes: 'In Chattenden Woods, Kent, where these butterflies formerly occurred abundantly, the females were in the habit of resorting to the highest ground, the brow of a large hill, on the summit of which were a few oak trees; these were the favourite resort of this species, and large numbers were captured yearly.'  He continues: 'the author has seen freshly emerged specimens pairing on the oaks on the hill' and laments, 'ninety-seven of these butterflies were captured in a few days by two men - a dealer and his friend.'  

Frohawk reckons that iris had disappeared from Chattenden by the end of the 'eighties'.  However, Heslop states that the War Department (MOD), which took over - and cleared - much of the site during WW1, used to issue permits for the collecting of Purple Emperors 'into the twenties of the present century', and also mentions that the butterfly was successfully reintroduced there. 

The MOD land became known as Lodge Hill.  This area - the eastern part of Great Chattenden Wood - is the proposed site of 5,000 new homes, despite it having been designated as an SSSI owing to the presence of a large population of Nightingales.  Interestingly, His Grace the Duke of Burgundy has recently been discovered there. 

I toured Chattenden during the winter of 1976-77 and more recently one dull November day, and felt on both occasions that the site was still suitable for iris.  Lodge Hill is now, apparently, thick with sallows.  Best of all, the butterfly was seen nearby this year. 

Gentlemen, iris is back in Chattenden, though I suspect he may never have left - and a major public inquiry must loam.  Frohawk and Tutt's hill is presumably the prominent hillock at the western end of the surviving wood, above Cliffe - it had that feel about it when I visited. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Purple Emperor Polo Shirts

Just spotted this on the BC website
- already on my Christmas list - must have uniform methinks.
Kind regards

Monday, September 22, 2014

More Depressing News...

Two-thirds of the way through my annual survey of iris breeding sites in / around Savernake Forest and it looks very much as though this year will prove to be the poorest in six years of systematic recording. 

To date only 16 breeding sites have been found - that's both live larvae and failed breeding sites (i.e. definite vacant larval seat pads + egg case bases, and no sign of the larvae anywhere). 

Worse, only five live larvae have been found - along with 11 failed breeding sites.  That is an unusually and worryingly high proportion of failed larvae, usually it's the other way round.  I will look around the failed sites again, as one or two larvae may yet be located - they can wander quite far, especially just after the second skin change (yesterday I found a third instar larva 2.5m away from the egg case base and 1st / 2nd instar feeding leaf, but they can travel much further). 

Perhaps the cold, wet August (memorable for ex-Hurricane Bertha sitting over us for a week mid-month) caused high mortality.  However, I strongly suspect that the bulk of these disappearances result from mortality due to unsuitable foliage: early springs produce leaves that are too thick, coarse (dark-leaved to our eyes) for young larvae in late summer.  Certainly, there is a shortage of the favoured 'mid-green soft matt leaves of medium thickness' around this early autumn.

Of course, all this is based on the assumption that the females consistently lay low down from year to year.  They may, or they may not... the minxes...

Finally, a plea to support Paul Fosterjohn's production of a badge showing a Purple Emperor larva and the Never Underestimate a Caterpillar motto (in English and Latin).  Paul needs more subscribers.  Details -

This is a crowd-funding initiative in that I need 40 orders placed within a month before I go into production. I am looking for each person to order at least one pin badge and send me a cheque for the amount of £5.50 per badge with an additional £1.20 for postage (for up to four badges). I will bank all the cheques on the 4th of October ONLY IF 40 orders have been received.


I particularly want this badge...

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Nightmare Continues...

I am about half way through my annual search for Purple Emperor larvae in / around Savernake Forest, Wilts.  This is the 6th year I've done this.  To date I have found only 12, and it looks as though this will be the poorest year I've recorded. 

Part of the problem is the shortage of suitable mid-green, soft, matt foliage.  Far too much of the foliage this season is thick and coarse leaved, which is dark-green or even blue-green in colour.  This results from the early and rapid spring we had.  It seems that late springs produce more suitable foliage for the late summer / autumn larvae. 

I've found an unusually high number of failed breeding sites this season, where the larvae have vanished.  This I attribute primarily to the preponderance of coarse, thick leaves, though the cold, wet August cannot have helped. 

Another problem is extensive damage on previously favoured trees by frog hopper nymphs.  They've trashed many of the best breeding trees, curse and crush them. 

However, here's a healthy larva I found today, changing from 2nd to 3rd instar (a little on the late side) -

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Twilight of the Empire

In a disused quarry in the Swiss Rhône Valley, a lone emperor was defying the precocious autumn this morning, watching the world go by from a sallow tree:

I think this is a male. I spotted it in flight and initially took it for a female - no visible hint of gleaming blue during the brief time it twisted and glided in front of me - but from its general appearance and the way it then sat high in the sallow for the next hour, I changed my mind to male. Some shots taken when it opened its wings showed a very, very slight note of purple:

According to MétéoSuisse - and matching my own observations - this autumn is falling a couple of weeks earlier than average, measured by phenological indicators like hazel catkins. His Imperial Majesty truly is a law unto Himself!

Will this be the last record from the Empire this year?


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Purple Empire Exclusive

Ladies and Gentlemen, earlier in the season I mooted the idea of a golden caterpillar award but unfortunately had to shelve plans. However, I kept the design to one side as it deserves to go into production.

Therefore, the time is right and offered for pre-order only to people of purple persuasion via the Purple Empire blog. 

The design depicts Keats ascending in raised metal from the surface which is slightly recessed. All this surrounded by Matthew Oates' well known Latin phrase with English translation on a background of regal blue enamel. The size of the badge will be 30mm wide by 25mm tall. Please note that spelling has been corrected as per the comments.

The pin badges will be limited to 40 pieces only cost of £5.50 each. Postage and packing will be an additional £1.20.

To take part in the pre-order offer and reserve a badge or badges (yes, you can order more than one if you wish) you should send me an email with PURPLE EMPIRE in the subject title to and I will send you details of what you need to do next.