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.
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.
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!