Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Nightmare Continues...

I am about half way through my annual search for Purple Emperor larvae in / around Savernake Forest, Wilts.  This is the 6th year I've done this.  To date I have found only 12, and it looks as though this will be the poorest year I've recorded. 

Part of the problem is the shortage of suitable mid-green, soft, matt foliage.  Far too much of the foliage this season is thick and coarse leaved, which is dark-green or even blue-green in colour.  This results from the early and rapid spring we had.  It seems that late springs produce more suitable foliage for the late summer / autumn larvae. 

I've found an unusually high number of failed breeding sites this season, where the larvae have vanished.  This I attribute primarily to the preponderance of coarse, thick leaves, though the cold, wet August cannot have helped. 

Another problem is extensive damage on previously favoured trees by frog hopper nymphs.  They've trashed many of the best breeding trees, curse and crush them. 

However, here's a healthy larva I found today, changing from 2nd to 3rd instar (a little on the late side) -

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Twilight of the Empire

In a disused quarry in the Swiss Rhône Valley, a lone emperor was defying the precocious autumn this morning, watching the world go by from a sallow tree:

I think this is a male. I spotted it in flight and initially took it for a female - no visible hint of gleaming blue during the brief time it twisted and glided in front of me - but from its general appearance and the way it then sat high in the sallow for the next hour, I changed my mind to male. Some shots taken when it opened its wings showed a very, very slight note of purple:

According to MétéoSuisse - and matching my own observations - this autumn is falling a couple of weeks earlier than average, measured by phenological indicators like hazel catkins. His Imperial Majesty truly is a law unto Himself!

Will this be the last record from the Empire this year?


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Purple Empire Exclusive

Ladies and Gentlemen, earlier in the season I mooted the idea of a golden caterpillar award but unfortunately had to shelve plans. However, I kept the design to one side as it deserves to go into production.

Therefore, the time is right and offered for pre-sale only to people of purple persuasion via the Purple Empire blog. 

The design depicts Keats ascending in raised metal from the surface which is slightly recessed. All this surrounded by Matthew Oates' well known Latin phrase with English translation on a background of regal blue enamel. The size of the badge will be 30mm wide by 25mm tall. Please note that spelling has been corrected as per the comments.

The pin badges will be limited to 50 pieces and they will be sequentially numbered on the reverse. They will cost of £5.50 each. Postage and packing will be an additional £1.20.

The tooling for the badges will not be set up until 40 have been reserved. To take part in the pre-sale offer and reserve a badge or badges (yes, you can order more than one if you wish) you should send me an email with PURPLE EMPIRE in the subject title to and I will send you details of what you need to do next. 

Please note that 40 confirmed orders are required before it can go into production.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Woe, and thrice Woe!

My first full search for larvae in / around Savernake took place yesterday, accompanied by Ian Shale.  In 4hrs 30 mins searching we found signs of three larvae, only - egg case bases and 1st instar larval feeding leaves + silk seat pads, two of them with 2nd instar feeding leaves too.  But no attendant larvae.  Presumably, these had perished.

The tiny egg case bases can last for weeks - last year I found one in early November.  But the larva eats the bulk of the egg, leaving just the glued-on base behind, like this:-

The larval feeding leaves + seat pads are quite salient by late August, hence why I prefer to look for 2nd or 3rd instar larvae, rather than eggs.  They look like this:-

This is a dismal tally, given that we searched much of the traditional main breeding area.  Last year the same trees produced nearly 50 larvae!  Part of the problem was that frog-hopper nymphs had devastated much of the foliage, and iris females avoid such trees.  Also, the early spring had led to the development of coarse, thick and dark leaves, which are generally avoided.  I realise why I saw just a lone female in that part of the forest this flight season.

The hunt is now on to find where the females laid their eggs...

Watch this space, but at present the prospects for 2015 look distinctly bleak!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Swiss Update

In answer to Dennis, below, it's difficult to give a useful comparison because I have only searched on readily accessible sallows, in places I can easily check on my daily dog-walk. Of 12 eggs originally found, the tally is: 10 hatched (the remaining two are dead), 3 cats gone awol, 1 cat known dead and 6 still in the pink of health (3 1st instar and 3 2nd instar, as of today). I subsequently found another second instar cat, so I am presently keeping tab on 7 cats in total. They are (as photographed this morning):








Poor old Rāma was eaten by something a couple of days ago - so he's the one I know is dead:

The egg that I found eaten on August 10th is still intact on its leaf, nearly three weeks later:
(Aug 10th)

(today, 29th August)

Et voilà! It remains to be seen how many of these I will be able to follow into hibernation!


Thursday, August 28, 2014


It does not get better in Bucks/Oxon: so far, just 5 found in 7 hours intensive searching in five woods.
Guy: how is it in Switzerland?
It will be interesting to hear how Matthew gets on in Savernake.

Purple Battles from 2014 season

Hi all, have put together a selection of shots of Emperors battling over this past 2014 summer season. All taken at the Bookham Common Hill Farm territory. Best wishes - Rob Hill
A selection of males sparring...
A male pursuing a female (the pair slowly moved around the territory canopy for over 15 minutes).  

Male active in the canopy late in season

Male chasing a dragonfly.