Early quest for the Purple Emperor

March 1st, this year spring arrived early in Finland and nearly all snow was gone already by the end of February. A sunny Saturday with +0.5 degrees Celsius sounded like a good day to kick start into the butterfly season.

Almost a month ago my dad, living in Switzerland, reported his first butterfly sighting, a Common Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni). In Finland, the waiting continues. A realistic average expectation to observe the first flight of a butterfly is probably April. However, I couldn’t hold myself back to give it a try. The first attempt to score one of the season targets was focusing on a real challenge, finding small Purple Emperor (Apatura iris) caterpillars which overwinter in the stage of larva.

Let me keep the results short: I failed. Despite of the proper preparation, including research on the web finding the right field plus cycling a total of 20 km to reach a promising spot. The major problem turned out to be scanning the surrounding and detect the right food plant. Having no leafs on trees this time of the year, my botanical skills were not sufficient to sight a goat willow (Salix caprea) at a promising location, which then may or may not host any of these tiny caterpillars.

I had to accept my defeat, and decided to give it another try when the temperature is more comfortable, or perhaps when the trees wear leafs again later in spring. It will not only be easier to detect the right bush or tree, but traces on these leafs can help finding a spot where caterpillars have been feeding.

All in all, it feels great knowing that winter has almost passed, and the entire season is ahead. Furthermore, to highlight at least one positive sake of this first caterpillar quest: I got some sports spending time on the mountain bike.

Details and information on the Purple Emperor are provided by The Purple Empire, a blog dedicated to this particular species. It contains a collection of great photography and insights into the world of this beautiful butterfly.

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