Unto the Realm of the Purple Emperor

It’s that time of the year when the UK’s most sought after butterfly is out and about.  The Purple Emperor (Apatura iris) is not that rare but due to its habits and habitat not that easy see.  The Emperor otherwise known as HIM (His Imperial Majesty) or Iris dwells in woodland.  Not that unusual for a butterfly, however they spend most of their lives in the canopy.  Unlike other species Iris does not nectar on flowers, no it prefers delicacies such as dead animals or poo!  This is the second largest of our butterflies and the beautiful colour of the male is only seen when the light catches it just right, it’s called refraction.

Finger licking good!  An Emperor with the taste for human flesh, mine!

On the 17th I headed out on a six hour round trip to their stronghold the legendary Fermyn Woods part of the ancient Rockingham Forest in Northamptonshire.  It was hot, very hot, high 20’s C.  Arrived early at 8am and spent the next four hours wandering the rides.  I had ten sightings but few came to ground and if they did it was only for seconds.  I found one feeding on moss and eased it onto my finger where it licked the sweat for several minutes.

Sadly I got no images of the open wings though to be fair I have had many in past years.  One species that was quite noticeable was the tiny Purple Hairstreak (Favonius quercus).  This butterfly lives almost it’s entire life in the tops of Oak trees and feeds on the honeydew produced by aphids.  On Saturday many were at low level and some came and searched for minerals on the paths.

Not one I’ve featured before, Purple Hairstreak the purple prince

Today (19th) I again went in search of Emperors.  This time it was local just 20 miles to Foxley Wood.  For the past two years Iris has been reported, would I be lucky?  You bet!  Just a few yards along the main ride and I had my first sighting as one cruised around a big Oak.  Further on and two more were searching Sallows for newly emerged females (the caterpillars eat Sallow leaves and pupates on the tree).  As the temperatures rose to mid 20’s I saw a few more and then bingo!  One came down on the ground to gather minerals.  For several minutes it paraded around flashing off it’s regal sheen.  This butterfly was last recorded in Norfolk in 1961.  Then around five years ago a few sightings were reported a few miles away from Foxley.  Now they are back and breeding and I no longer need to travel half way across the Country!

His Imperial Majesty alights at Foxley
And flashes it’s royal colours

56 thoughts on “Unto the Realm of the Purple Emperor

  1. What an awesome butter! As with many of them, the beauty is on their open wings and was hoping to see a shot of the top of this one – didn’t disappoint further down in the post as it looks quite regal. Great shot on the finger – would not have guessed it would be that tolerant of a human by it – they scatter if I come anywhere close to one here and that ones reads as much rarer. A truly successful quest(s) you had there B! Fine work.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Brilliant. I’ve never seen His Imperial Majesty, and while I’ve considered for several years taking a trip to Fermyn Woods, the prospect of driving several hours and not getting a decent view (or maybe any view at all) isn’t very appealing. The good news is it’s rumoured that they may be spreading into the southern tip of our county (Derbyshire). So maybe I’ll be lucky next year?

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    1. Closer to you is the place you visited a little while ago Sherwood Forest. Go early in the flight season to Fermyn, around early July, and they are almost guaranteed on the ground in Lady/Souther Wood. Good hunting if you give it a try.

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  3. An absolute stunner.
    Well done that man!
    I really admire your dedication and enthusiasm, Mister B to drive so far to capture these beauties.
    I feel more than a little spoiled that I usually only have to walk out to the garden.
    A pleasure to see these as it is cold enough to freeze the balls of a brass monkey down here and not a butterfly in sight at the moment.

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    1. Some call it dedication and enthusiasm others think it’s just a bit weird. I like to make a day of it and there is always so much more to see.
      I do envy your garden. We have had a few butterflies in our new spot and about half a dozen species of birds, it’s the pond that gives it interest with the dragonflies.
      Wrap up well, never imagine SA as a cold place.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I so enjoyed the adventure of the Purple Emperor, Brian. Hearing about your trek to where you had a good possibility of seeing them, and your determination was great. Seeing the first photo, yes, what a pretty butterfly. Then we see what they look like with the wings open and OMG. That royal purple is astounding. I have never seen a butterfly with that color. Really special.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for dropping by Jet and the comment. It’s always worth a little bit of effort to see something as spectacular as the Emperor. Out of our 58 species of butterfly nothing comes close to that amazing colour refraction. It reminds me a little bit of some of those rain forest beauties.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for stopping by my blog and mentioning your Purple Emperor — what a stunning butterfly! And it’s such fun to ‘meet’ new nature blogging friends from across the pond. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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