Lesser Purple Emperor (Apatura ilia)

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2017 photographs highlighted in yellow. Click on any photograph to go to an enlarged picture, or simply scroll down the page.

17889_male_Isère_11Jul09 17890_male_Isère_11Jul09 17892_male_Isère_11Jul09
17901_male_Isère_11Jul09 22472_male_Isère_17Jul10 22547_male_Isère_17Jul10
22563_male_Isère_17Jul10 41243_male_Isère_11Jul16 41280_male_Isère_11Jul16
18328_female?_Isère_13Jul09 31569_female_Var_9Sep12 22756_male_Isère_18Jul10
 
18415_male_Isère_13Jul09 17898_male_Isère_11Jul09  

My first ever sighting of ilia was in the Pyrénées in 2005 and it felt like a privilege to be allowed to see this magnificent beast swooping and gliding. It was the orange form clytie, not uncommon in the south of France.

 

Given that the blue-purple colour flashes on and off as it moves, I have found it difficult to determine exactly how clytie differs from the nominate form in the male in particular. The books do not appear to make it clear whether  clytie has the blue-purple colouring or not, and if it does, to what extent, and in this case, what actually differentiates the two forms. It seems to me, as stated in H&R, that the differentiating factor is that the lighter upf and uph discal band is white in the nominate ilia and orange or pale orange in clytie, but clytie can have the purple sheen albeit to an apparently lesser extent.

 

 

It is certainly smaller than its illustrious cousin, the Purple Emperor (A. iris), but not lesser in any other sense. It seems to me that is has more of a blue-purple colour than iris, which is more distinctly purple. Apart from size and colour, a unique identifier is the upf eye-spot of ilia, not present in iris.

Ilia has a habit of gliding at a metre or so above the ground, settling from time to time at the edge of trees at around 3m above the ground. It is normally, almost always, found in the vicinity of water. 2009 was an exceptional year for my sightings of ilia, as was 2010, but I could not say whether that was because ilia was enjoying a bumper year or whether I was just fortunate to be in the right places at the right times. At the location where I saw 17889 and 18328, there was also a single iris and a Camberwell Beauty (Nymphalis antiopa) among the 56 species (seen over two days) flying at this small riverside spot.

ref sex

observations

alt. m
17889-17901 M

a male ilia of the nominate form. The four photographs are of the same individual (17898 is the underside) and demonstrate how the colour changes as they move, in this case walking around puddling and opening and closing its wings as it did so; the effect is a dazzling flashing colour that really has to be seen to be believed, and only a video of ilia (or iris) can really do it justice in this respect. An unforgettable experience.

1120
22472 M

a male of the form clytie, taken at the particular angle when no purple was visible. Other photographs of the same individual show the purple sheen, thus confirming that it is a a male.

1120
22547 M

a male, of the form clytie, showing the semi-purple appearance, halfway between the orange appearance and the full purple sheen.

1120
22563 M

a male, of the nominate form.

1120
41243 M a male of the nominate form, rather a deep blue from this angle. 1120
41280 M another shot of clytie showing the contrast between the two sides at different angles to the light, just catching the blue-purple on the left side. 1120
18328 M?

ilia of the form clytie, which I am assuming to be male based on its taking salts from the ground. I did not record at the time whether any blue-purple colour was visible which would have confirmed male. The body shape is not conclusive in determining the sex of 18328, but I feel that the absence of scalloping on the hindwing and its behaviour strongly suggest male.

1120
31569 F a female of the form clytie. This was an especially important sighting for me as I had seen what I thought was ilia at this location in September 2011 but with no clear view or photograph, there remained uncertainty. Ilia is fairly rare in Var and there had been no records in the vicinity of this location which was about 5km from the coast, ilia being decidedly not a coastal species. It is clearly a female as no blue or purple was visible as it moved around taking moisture from some damp earth at the base of a dried up river bed, and the degree of hindwing scalloping is further proof. 20
22756 M

a male underside of the form clytie.

1120
18415 M

a male underside of the form clytie.

1120
17898 M

the underside of the nominate form, probably the same individual as 17889. The upperside colouring and markings (of ilia and clytie) seem to be reflected in the undersides, albeit to a lesser degree.

1120

 

17889_male_Isère_11Jul09

17890_male_Isère_11Jul09

17892_male_Isère_11Jul09

17901_male_Isère_11Jul09

 

22472_male_Isère_17Jul10

 

22547_male_Isère_17Jul10

 

22563_male_Isère_17Jul10

 

41243_male_Isère_11Jul16

 

41280_male_Isère_11Jul16

 

18328_male?_Isère_13Jul09

 

31569_female_Var_9Sep12

 

22756_male_Isère_18Jul10

 

18415_male_Isère_13Jul09

 

17898_male_Isère_11Jul09