Continuing the search for A. ilia caterpillars

Only a couple kilometers from our new home I spotted a male of the Lesser purple emperor (Apatura ilia) in early July. This gave me hope that I might have found a good larval habitat for searching overwintering caterpillars in late autumn and during winter.

While cycling home on a sunny but windy day earlier this summer I suddenly noticed a large butterfly taking off from the path. I clearly knew it must be an interesting species. Getting a close-up on the wings confirmed that it was a male of A. ilia. Since the location has growth of aspen in different sizes it’s a highly promising biotope.

Like the Purple emperor (Apatura iris) also the Lesser purple emperor has incredible blue tones on its wings, depending on the light conditions. Note, females are plain black and lack the blue shades.

Blue Shimmer

Lesser Purple Emperor (Apatura ilia)

Purple emperors, regardless of the species, are equally amazing. The blue shimmer on their wings when the light hits from the right direction is something that cannot be explained. Note thought, it’s only the male butterflies that have the purple and blue colors. So if you see those colors, you’ll also know the gender of the specimen you’re looking at.

Summer 2015 was the moment when I finally sighted my first purple emperor, or actually, quite many of them. All back then were Lesser Purple Emperors (Apatura ilia). This was definitely a moment I was looking for already back as a small kid. There’s still much ahead. Raising caterpillars will be the next target.

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.