Thursday, December 24, 2015


Still feeding my adults on Christmas day. Continual rearing certainly appears to be a possibility for these species. MERRY CHRISTMAS everyone.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Shock Horror!

Purple Emperor larvae resent each other's presence almost as much as adult males, so I was amazed to find two hibernating next to each other in Safernoc (ancient spelling of Savernake) today.  Not the greatest of photos but it was too windy for photography -

Here's a wider view -

I was also surprised to find one hibernating a fair way along a dead branch, only the second time I've found one hibernating off a live branch (out of about 120 wild hibernating larvae) -

And here's a nice bicoloured larva, indicating just how chameleon-like they can be -

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Sallow leaf damage

How likely is this leaf damage (on a fallen sallow) to have been made by Purple Emperor, or could it be any of numerous species of Lepidoptera - the location is Epping Forest, Essex? We are still trying, in a lazy kind of way, to find our first larva. Thanks, Liz & Andrew

Monday, November 9, 2015

Conking out...

Over the weekend (7th & 8th Nov) I watched a larva entering hibernation, at Knepp Wildlands in West Sussex. 

He (named 'Raymond') had been photographed fully coloured up on an about-to-fall leaf on Thurs 6th, by Penny Webb, Knepp's ecologist -

Then, mid-morning on the 7th I found him slowly crawling about some 30cm away, on a different twig system, in driving rain.  He then conked out here, in pre-hibernation mode -

Then, mid-morning on the 8th he was found back near his old feeding spray, which had fallen off.  After observing the Act of Remembrance, it being Remembrance Day, he spent 30 minutes spinning a loose silk pad on the stem next to a prominent bud (the 4th bud from the spray tip), then he conked out on the pad, hopefully for five long months, to dream of spring...  Here's him spinning - 

And here's him conked - 

And here's a wider view of his location, a typical hibernation spot -

Now, if only I could conk out for the next five months...

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Full House

Every single one of the following photos was taken today 03.11.15

Freshly laid ova (3rd generation):

Ova about to hatch (3rd generation):

L1 larvae (3rd generation):

L2 larva (3rd generation):

L3 larva (3rd generation):

Diapausing L3 larva (2nd generation):

Fresh L4 larva (3rd generation):

Fully grown L5 larva (2nd generation):

Pupae (2nd generation):

Imago's (2nd generation):

Paired imago's (2nd generation):

As my 3rd generation L3 larvae have failed to diapause, I am hoping to ascertain if it is now possible to continually rear this species. For those interested to learn more, please send me Facebook friend request:

Monday, November 2, 2015

Into Hibernation...

Good to find one larva in hibernation in Savernake yesterday -

Most are still on the leaves, colouring up -

Every year I hope for cold, wet weather at the start of November, so that larvae don't wander far before conking out, and I can find them easily ...  but every autumn we get ridiculously mild weather precisely then, and larvae wander far and wide...  Cross.  

Friday, October 30, 2015

Monday, October 26, 2015

Final Savernake Tally

This year's tally of autumn larvae found in/ around Savernake Forest is 21.  This is the same as last year's (poor) tally, but is better than I'd feared as the survey season ended relatively strongly yesterday.  My sincere thanks to Mark Tutton for helping.

Most larvae were found in two hot spot areas. Several favoured breeding areas were unsuitable this year because of severe tree hopper damage to foliage during June and / or serious squirrel damage to bark.  

Yesterday we found that two larvae had probably gone into hibernation (their feeding sprays had yellowed or fallen), though we couldn't actually find them - they may have travelled >3m.  I'll look again when all the leaves are off.

Two of the six larvae we saw yesterday were about 50% coloured up, prior to hibernation, three of the other four were starting to colour up, but one was still in full Lincoln green. 

Here's a green one hiding in a leaf tip drip - 

And here's one who will have to go off into hibernation very soon (though it will have sealed its leaf on to the twig stem with silk) - 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Towards Hibernation

My two captive larvae coloured up ridiculously early this year. This one was photographed on 14th Oct and went into hibernation on or around the 20th - 

That's early, very early...  And they are on a bush which stays suitably green well into November.

I checked six in the wild last Sunday (the 19th), and found that they were colouring up fast.  

Looks like they're going into hibernation early, which is odd as they changed into the 3rd instar rather late.  

All this begs the question of what do they know which we don't?????

Sunday, October 11, 2015


Purple Emperor larva No 1001 was found yesterday at Marwell Zoo, by the leopard enclosure.  I'm particularly proud of this find, though the Marwell car park and woods has long been a good site for iris - I worked it during the late 1980s.  

There's a wooden walkway which skirts the leopard enclosure, running along the edge of a stand of old caprea-type sallows - at just the right height for sallow searching...  This is what was going on in the leopard enclosure -

Greater violence takes place over the nearby oaks in July...

What we really need at Marwell is a Violent Butterfly Inclosure: a massive netted flight area, containing tall oaks and aerial walkways, planted up with sallows and strawberry tree, and well stocked with Purple Emperor and the Two-tailed Pasha Charaxes jasius, only.  Male Emperors would have a fantastic time kicking the living daylights out of Two-tailed Pashas...  If Marwell wont do it, Knepp certainly will...  Bring it on!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Oates's Marathon Innings

Today I at last reached the 1000 landmark - i.e. 1000 Purple Emperor eggs and larvae in the wild, with a pair of 3rd instar larvae close by on the same spray, on the edge of Savernake Forest. 

Unusual to find two together as, surprise surprise, they hate each other and squabble like mad - if one invades the other's leaf they lock horns and try to wrestle each other off...  

Also found a deceased larva (which counts in the 1000) - 

Note the shiny egg case base at 2 o'clock from the head.

It would be nice to think I could retire now, but I can't, so I took a fresh guard, uttered a profanity against the Two-tailed Pasha and batted on.  For those who like statistics, the innings took 40 years, lasted over 1000 hours, and included one nine, two sevens, three sixes and 24 fours...  Over half were found in four glorious seasons.

Can someone please certify me...

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Battle of the Titans...

Just returned from a visit to my best friend from school's villa on the Costa Brava...  

Here's the view -

This was my first opportunity to look for the Two-tailed Pasha Charaxes jasius, the one butterfly I feared might rival iris for the position of Europe's premier butterfly. It's larger for a start.  I'd lost a lot of sleep worrying that jasius might prove mightier than iris.

I need not have worried.  It's a cowardly beast, which wouldn't last five minutes in the Knepp Wildlands oaks.  With such a jerky flight it would never be able to out-manoeuvre iris in a clash and chase, and would quickly be shot down in  flames.  The first one I saw got beaten up by a Red Admiral.  Imagine that!  No Red Admiral would dare to fly into an iris territory, though they often set up territories directly below those of iris.  I chose to turn my back on Charaxes jasius, and refused to photograph it.  I was wearing purple and white at the time, of course.

This establishes a precedent: from now on all People of Purple Persuasion are obliged to turn their back on their first Charaxes.  

For the record, Long-tailed Blue, Lang's Short-tailed Blue (more of a Long-tailed lookalike) and Geranium Bronze were numerous in my friend's garden.  Nigel's Pelargoniums had been suitably shredded by the latter, except for those with aromatic leaves which the females seem to ignore.  Here are the pics, I didn't bother to photograph jasius

Monday, September 14, 2015

Egg Lay Woes

Ably assisted by Mark Tutton (who seems to be better at finding iris larvae than me) I am two-thirds of the way through my annual monitoring of eggs and larvae in and around Savernake Forest.  

It is not good news.  Although I kicked off with a miraculous five larvae on the first tree I searched, the tally has since struggled to reach ten, suggesting that my final total may be a measly 15 - that's significantly lower than last year's count, which itself was the lowest recorded since monitoring began in 2009.  

Yesterday, in seven hours of combined searching Mark and I found a single 2nd instar larva and one failed breeding site (first instar feeding leaf & seat pad, + egg case base remnant, but no sign of the 'pillar).  

So far in Savernake, I am averaging one find per 3 hours searching. Brother Dennis, active in North Bucks, is doing much better, averaging one find per hour.  In 2009 and 2013 Savernake was produce a larva every 20 minutes.

There are several reasons.  In Savernake, the flight season kicked off late (mid-July), then the weather deteriorated and the females had to contend with windy and at times wet weather.  Iris hates wind.  I was not expecting a big emergence there anyway, due to a poor egg lay in 2014.  Also, most of the favoured sallows at the southern end of the forest have been rendered unsuitable this year by extensive damage by tree hopper nymphs, several breeding sallows have been badly damaged by squirrels, and others have been pruned back or removed during ride-widening work.   

This monitoring is, of course, based on the assumption that the butterfly lays the same proportion of its eggs low down annually - reachable from the ground with a shepherd's crook.  There is no evidence to support or counter that assumption...

For the record, the few larvae that are around are changing from 2nd to 3rd instar now.  

The prospects for the 2016 flight season are, at this distance, not great...

Here's yesterday's 2nd instar larva - 

And here's His Tuttonship, at the joyous moment of finding his first iris larva - 

Mark is now on 2 not out...

I am on 997 not out (accrued during a marathon innings of 40 years), but I'm not particularly confident about reaching the magical four figures this year...

Friday, September 4, 2015

Caterpillar hunting at Knepp

Knepp may have topped the table with sheer numbers of adults on the wing year but finding caterpillars is no easy task.

I must say that spending the afternoon with Matthew was an absolute pleasure (as usual), expert guidance is a prerequisite to finding the little blighters. Thankfully, earlier in the day Penny, Knepp's ecologist found one and I was able to have an introduction.

Having only found one today has whetted the appetite to find more so back to Knepp very soon.

I almost forgot to mention that Knepp has a new limited edition Purple Emperor pin badge. It is a larger, 3cm wide version of the original Empire badge. Limited to 100 badges to celebrate the 100+ sightings on a Safari this year. The badges are available to personal visitors.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Larval Doings...

The larvae hunting season is upon us...  I have neither the time (in late July & early August) nor the eyesight to search for eggs, preferring to look for 2nd and 3rd instar larvae on leaf tips instead, from late August through to late October.  The disadvantage of this is that one finds failed breeding sites - egg case bases and 1st instar larval feeding damage, with no sign of the 'pillar.  That, to me, still counts as useful information, and occasionally the missing 'pillar is found later.    

For the last six years I've methodically searched for autumn larvae in designated areas in and around Savernake Forest in Wiltshire. The search area takes some 40 hours to cover.  

Last year's Savernake tally was the lowest in the six years.  I was fearing that this year may produce an even lower count, as adults seemed horribly scarce there in July, and so was greatly relieved when I kicked off with six larvae yesterday - on trees which produced two failed breeding sites in 2014.  That's reassuring.  

This week I'm going to spend three days searching for larvae at Knepp (and looking for Brother, or rather Sister, Betulae). The objective is to compare overwintering mortality rates at Knepp and Savernake.  A sample of ten hibernating larvae at both sites will do - anything more than 25 is unmanageable.  

If any Sussex locals want to join me on Tues, Wed or Thurs, even for the odd hour, then please come along (text 07771 971488). Warning: experience suggests larvae are not that easy to find at Knepp.  Any larvae found there will be named after Burrell ancestors (Knepp estate family) and closely monitored.

Here's a late second instar larva from Savernake yesterday - 

And a 1st instar larva skin changing there yesterday -

I also find a fair few of these, as Pebble Prominent moths favour the same type of sallow foliage as iris -

Watch this space, nothing might happen but watch it anyway...

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Infertile Eggs

Infertile eggs are not that infrequent, perhaps especially after hot weather flight seasons.  Either that or I find every one laid...

This egg is empty.  I bunged it under the microscope at x 60 and couldn't find any hole, so it hadn't been sucked (by a weevil, or other malicious invertebrate).  The conclusion is that a male was firing blanks, or a female had run out of sperm...

(Fermyn Woods, 20th Aug 2015 - and I saw 14 Silver-washed Fritillaries, 2 old Ringlet and, incredibly, 2 old Large Skipper - my first of the month).

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Knepp Highlights

Thanks to David Land for forwarding these magnificent photos of Emperors on the favoured sap oak at Knepp this July -

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Dogfighting emperors

I'm a long-time fan of HIM but new to this site.  I thought I'd share my very grainy pic of a couple of upside-down male emperors, which I snapped from afar as they were engaged in dogfights above the canopy at Buck's Horn Oak, Alice Holt Forest, one day in mid July this year.

That was the best view I had of emperors that day, but a couple of days later my brother and I came across a very obliging male taking salts in the middle of the main ride in nearby Straits Inclosure.  I've put the pics on my Flickr site here:

Though I hail from Hampshire, I now live the other side of the world, in Tasmania, so I doubt I'll get another chance to watch the emperors again for a while.  But the happy memories will linger.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Late News

The Emperor season must have ended now.  It seems to have been rather a short one, curtailed prematurely by high winds and spells of hot weather.  Indeed, this was the windiest Emperor season I've known (or at least the windiest since 1973).  The flight season in Savernake Forest was remarkably short, commencing just before mid-July and only just lasting into early August - I had expected them to last to mid-August there, but they'd finished by the 8th.  

Apart from at Knepp, in West Sussex, numbers were at best average, and were generally comparable to last year's modest showing.  At Bookham, where Ken Willmott has data on male occupancy in the main territory running back to the late 1970s, it was another average year.  At several sites numbers were even lower than in 2014.  Strangely, the population at mighty Fermyn Woods declined significantly - not due to any obvious habitat deterioration. Knepp bucked the trend wondrously, and is now Britain's premier Emperor site. 

The butterfly was discovered or rediscovered in several new districts, including Hampstead Heath in north London and at Great Chattenden Wood in Kent, where the passion for this the best of all possible butterflies began, back in mid-Victorian times.  Great to have regular news of the Emperor in Notts and Cambs too.  And Gloucestershire has come out again, producing a male in woodland south-east of Stowe-on-the-Wold in mid-July. 

My guess is that the egg lay will prove to be distinctly poor, perhaps even down on last year's dismal figure.  Watch this space. Here's a recent photo of a larva, which has just changed into the second instar - 

Please remember that this blog functions all year round.  Keep posting things on, and follow the progress of larvae through autumn and winter, and into the spring - and next year's a biggie because it's 40 years on from the Long Hot Summer of 1976...

Monday, August 10, 2015

News from Hampstead Heath

This news came from Frank Nugent who has been watching the newly found assembly area on a regular basis since the beginning of July! "Reports of the Emperors demise have been greatly exaggerated! I'm beside myself with joy; here's my news: I'm overjoyed to report after no sighting whatsoever yesterday that the Purple Emperor put on a right regal show today on Hampstead Heath. Photos I took today show much wear and tear but you'd never have known it from his behaviour. He seemed extraordinarily active, first appearing at 13:11 and chasing everything in sight: Woodpigeons seemed to really aggrevate him, a Parakeet was escorted off the premises and Purple Hairstreaks and Red Admiral summarily dispensed with. Don't know what was eating him but he spent the day variously seeing off intruders and perching obligingly. HIM remained visible until 17:20 when I watched him leap from his perch and appeared to glide through one of the assembly trees to be seen no more."

Saturday, August 8, 2015

All OverAt Bentley

A 2 hour walk at Bentley failed to throw up a single Emperor . White Admirals also finished but still a few tired Silver Washed Frits hanging on , but not for much longer . That soon took the shine off England regaining The Ashes .

Monday, August 3, 2015

News from Cotgrave Woods (Cotgrave Forest) South Notts

Warm afternoon yesterday.
Patience was required to see two Purple Emperors - a male and female.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

A Struggle at Savernake

Arrived at Savernake at 11am and within 10 minutes of walking the main ride was greeted by herself leaving an oak and diving into the heart of a sallow, presumably to drop some eggs . Not a bad start to the day but sadly that was to be the only sighting of a 4 hour search ! With Savernake being a late sight I was hopeful of a decent day but it wasn't to be . As Matthew previously said there has been some extensive damage by deers to some sallows near the monument , with massive die back already occurring. Hopefully few eggs have been laid on these trees as they may well not survive the winter . On a plus note I did locate an egg deep in a shady part of the wood so hopefully the girls have made the most of when the sun has appeared over the last few weeks .

Saturday, August 1, 2015

From Ashley Whitlock

Today I took a field trip up to West Harting Down on the Hampshire and Sussex border, and at 1230 we had male Purple Emperor down.

 The best encounter we had was at 12:30 about quarter of a mile from the summit of West Harting Down when we had a landed Purple Emperor, he was a bit skittish at first and we were not sure whether he was a male or female because the Purple on his wings being a bit faded. He landed back on the ride after flying into the bracken and hazel at the side of the ride, and started imbibing. Its fairly unusual at this time of the season I thought and being 1st August, but here he was content as we watched him gorging on the ground for minerals. There must be a few more females to be mated with after I had seen one on Thursday last week. He kept taking off up the ride for a few yards and started again. And then back up the ride again he did this at least six times. He was with us for up to 12:50, when he finally took off near to the wheres that Assembly Point?