Butterflies of Europe
Lesser Purple Emperor
Family - NYMPHALIDAE
subfamily - APATURINAE
Tribe - APATURINI
Lesser Purple Emperor
Apatura ilia, Aggtelek, Hungary
© Peter Bruce-Jones
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.
Apatura ilia has an almost unbroken
range stretching from northern Portugal to Siberia, Ussuri and
subspecies A. ilia ilia produces
several differently coloured forms, ranging from the yellow-orange
marked clytie illustrated above, to
barcina from Catalonia which has broad
pure white markings and reflects a particularly vivid purple sheen
from the wings of males.
See also the
Apatura ilia praeclara and
Apatura ilia yunnana from China.
species is found in damp deciduous woodlands, forests and river
valleys at altitudes between sea level and about 600m.
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.
eggs are laid singly on the upperside of leaves of poplar trees (
Populus sp ) and less often on 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.
like those of its larger relative iris,
are well known for their habit of descending from the trees to feed at
unsavoury substances including faeces and carrion. They obtain vital
salts from these substances, which are passed to the females during
copulation, and are possibly essential for the production of fertile
Females are seen much less commonly, and
usually encountered when ovipositing on the lower foliage of the
foodplants. They are rarely seen feeding, and probably obtain most of
their nourishment from honey-dew ( aphid secretions which coat the
upper surface of leaves ).
Both sexes, like those of all
Apatura species, migrate to hill-tops or
ridges ( or in the case of lowland colonies to the tallest trees in
the vicinity ), where courtship and copulation take place.
After copulation they return to the
valleys, where the females tend to oviposit mainly on trees growing
along the edges of forest roads and sunlit rides. The males meanwhile
"refuel" on fluids exuding from dug and carrion, or from tree sap,
prior to seeking a second or third female with which to mate.