Purple Emperor (Apatura iris)
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2023 photographs highlighted in green. Click on any photograph to go to an enlarged picture, or simply scroll down the page.
This does not have the word "Emperor" in its name without good reason! It is not uncommon in central France although it probably does not occur in Var in the south-east. It seems to co-exist with its slightly smaller cousin, the Lesser Purple Emperor (A. ilia) in many localities. It occurs in certain localities in southern England, most of which are now well known, and field trips in early July are always well attended. There are several locations in Hertfordshire, a county not otherwise over-endowed with rare species, where iris has been thoroughly researched and monitored by Liz Goodyear and Andrew Middleton.
It has very precise larval hostplant and habitat requirements which are now well understood and known sites are managed for iris.
It has a quite defined behaviour pattern, with the best time to see it (males) being mid-morning to early afternoon, looking upwards, as it rarely comes down to ground level except to savour the delights of some animal waste product (some field trips have been known to bring their own bait of various animal origin) or diesel or carrion. It also seems very partial to human sweat - the more abhorrent the substance to human sensitivities, the more appealing it seems to be to iris, so don't bother with deodorant if you're out looking for iris, and it will probably find you. They seem to have predilection for landing on people and I have had one or two land on my shirt briefly.
There is a very rare and magnificent form of iris with no, or virtually no, white markings, known as iole. It has only been seen three times in the UK and was only photographed for the first time in 2009.
|a male, taking salts at a riverside location in the Alpes in mid-morning. It was on the ground, undeterred by the photography going on above it, for over an hour. 18597 is the same individual, at a slightly different angle and 18593 is the underside. As mentioned on the ilia page, as it moves around, the purple flashes on and off and it literally does flash - an amazing sight.
the same individual as 18583 showing a rather more purple-blue sheen.
|a male, on the ground in the Pyrénées. It was one of three that were taking salts, and this was the freshest and - surprisingly - the most photogenic by settling with open wings. I took a series of shots as it moved around, but this one best captured the purple sheen. The difficulty of capturing this effect is illustrated by the fact that it is best here on the right wing, and rather less so on the left wing. I believe that 38698 is the underside.
|a puzzle. I feel this is a female but why is it "puddling" at quite dry ground in the middle of the afternoon? I feel it is a female from the width of the white post-discal bands, the just-visible pale submarginal bands, and the fact that it was very large and it was moving around on the ground but at no time displaying any purple, which I would have expected if it were male. One expert has expressed the opinion that it is a male but another was confident it was a female.
|the underside of 41175.
the underside of 18583. The markings are almost identical to 2045.
a male, based on its taking salts. It was actually sampling diesel spills in a lorry park in central France. It's not a great photograph, but there are some places I'm not prepared to lie flat out to get a good shot. If you have seen French lorry drivers in action, you will understand why. An ilia and a High Brown Fritillary (Argynnis adippe) had been sampling the same diesel delights but these two had sadly not survived the experience.
|another male underside, different to 38698 as can be seen by the small chip of the apex of the forewing, and some slight difference in the markings. Best not to dwell on what it is sitting on.
|a male underside, where it is supping on some tarmac at a roadside spot where the road surface had been overlaid with gravel, but with some uncovered tarmac at the edges which was still accessible. This male was content to stay at this spot for some half an hour. The spot was in the shade, so the photograph is a little dark, but any attempt to move the butterfly would very likely have resulted in its departure.
|a rather rust-coloured male. This and 45383 and 45405 were all seen at the same time and at the same location, yet they are very different.
|a rather dark and contrasted underside.
|a fairly typical underside, contrasting with 45369 and 45383.