Butterflies of temperate Asia
Purple Emperor
Apatura iris  LINNAEUS, 1758
subfamily - APATURINAE
Apatura iris iris  Adrian Hoskins
The genus Apatura comprises of 4 species, 2 of which - iris and ilia, have a widespread distribution covering most of Europe and temperate Asia. The other 2 species are metis which is found in south-east Europe, Kazakhstan and s.w. Siberia; and laverna from n.e. China. Apatura are closely related to the South American genus Doxocopa, and in common with them are sexually dimorphic - the males possessing a beautiful purple sheen that is lacking in the females.
The Purple Emperor is distributed throughout much of central Europe but is localised and scarce in southern France, Spain and Portugal. It does not occur in Scandinavia, peninsula Italy or on any of the Mediterranean islands. Beyond Europe it's range extends across temperate Asia from the Baltic states to north-east China and Korea. In subspecies bieti from north-east China the white bands are replaced by orange, and the purple sheen is much reduced.
Apatura iris bieti male, Yunnan, China Andrew Neild
This species is found in damp deciduous woodlands, forests and river valleys at altitudes between sea level and about 1000m.
Both sexes can be found at least a kilometre away from the egg-laying localities, assembling at so-called master trees, of which there may be several in a large woodland complex. The master trees are usually mature oaks, but beeches, poplars and conifers are also used. In all cases the trees are tall specimens, often located on high ground, typically on the brow of a hill. At these trees the males indulge in spectacular "sorties", competing for the best vantage points. Strings of 4 or 5 males can often be seen chasing in circles around the tree tops.
Females are seen less often. They visit the master trees to find mates, and thereafter disperse to the egg-laying sites, which are often on north facing woodland edges, or in semi-shaded and low-lying areas of the wood where there are high densities of sallow.

In cooler localities there is a single generation per year emerging in June. It is bivoltine in the warmer southern part of it's range, producing a second brood of adults in August / September.

The eggs are laid singly on the upperside of leaves of sallow ( Salix ). The larva ( except that of the 1st bivoltine generation ) hibernates when young, either on the upper surface of a leaf which it has silked to prevent it from becoming detached from it's twig; or in the fork of a narrow branch. When mature the larva is pale green, marked with pale diagonal lines on the sides, and is incredibly well camouflaged when at rest on sallow or poplar leaves. The pupa is equally well camouflaged, and is suspended from beneath a leaf.

Adult behaviour

Purple Emperors spend most of their time resting high in trees, the males favouring oaks while the females more often rest in tall sallows. Females in particular may spend an hour or more on their tree-top perches, especially if the weather is cloudy or breezy. When the sun appears, even if only for a brief period, the males take flight and circle around the vicinity in search of food sources.

Males will feed at aphid secretions which often coat the upper surface of sallow or oak leaves. They are also strongly attracted to sap runs. They additionally feed at carrion or decomposing fruit, but are most frequently encountered when imbibing fluids from carnivore dung or urine-soaked ground. These provide them with essential alkaloids which are passed to females during copulation. Females are sometimes seen imbibing moisture from forest tracks between bouts of egg-laying, but do not visit carrion or dung.

Both sexes migrate to hill-tops or ridges where courtship and copulation take place. After copulation they return to the valleys where the females oviposit on Salix trees and bushes growing along the edges of forest roads and tracks.

Apatura iris bieti male, Yunnan, China Andrew Neild



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