Monday, February 8, 2016

Surviving Winter

This winter is bloody awful.  It's very similar to that of 2013-14: mild, wet and windy, with gale after wretched gale, although until now (8th Feb) the gales have largely been to the north of the Purple Empire.  

To date, hibernating Purple Emperor larvae have survived reasonably well in the wild.  I haven't got many to follow this winter, but lost one in late November and a second in late January, both to assumed tit predation.  (The second one may have moved, and not been relocated - but it was on a terminal bud, which is a suicidal position as foraging tits search there first and foremost).  

Three larvae have moved after entering hibernation, two during mid-December and another in late January.  Several moved whilst hibernating during the mild winter of 2013-14.

Here's No. 13, Wittgenstein, on the upper side of a fairly thick branch -

Here's No. 14, Kierkegaard, with unusual dark green and yellow mottling - 

And here's No. 9, Heidegger, on an old stem scar -

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Happy New Year!

A heatwave throughout July and August last year had a notable effect on the emperors. I didn't find a single egg and only in September, when the forest verges were cut, was able to locate any caterpillars - just two, both deep in shade and near the ground, presumably where the air was most humid. I can only hope it was choice of laying site that meant I found no eggs in the usual places. I followed just one caterpillar, Gautama, up to hibernation, when he wandered off. I couldn't find him anywhere. Then suddenly today, on my first Swiss walk of 2016, there he was, not 20cm from the leaf he grew up on.


Happy New Year!


Monday, January 4, 2016

Sallow in Leaf in Dorset

This could have very bad consequences if colder weather now suddenly appears. Matthew, are any trees in leaf in the relevant forests?

Photo thanks to Andrew Copper (via Facebook)

Friday, January 1, 2016

Up Yours, Titmice!

Delighted to report that all six larvae I've been following in the wild survived December, and were present and correct on Jan 1st (there may be one or two more which I haven't yet located in hibernation).  

This is good news as tit predation tends to be high during mild winter weather, and low during severe cold - but perhaps larvae were protected to some extent by December's excessive rain.  

It appears that tit predation is relatively low in years when larvae are scarce, as is the case now.  

Interesting that two of the six had moved position, one by a staggering 2m.  This tallies with mass movement recorded during the mild December of 2013, when I was following a much larger number of larvae.  However, none of the larvae which woke up and moved during the 2013-14 winter actually survived into the spring.

Here are some photos from today:- 

This one has stayed put, and is close to swelling green buds.

The one above has moved to a shady position up stem, in a lesion, from a terminal leaf bud exposed to sun.  My guess is that it might move again.

There were two here, head to head, but one (No 14, below) moved 2m to a leader bud. 

Interesting that this larva was grey-green but has changed colour to match its new background. 

This one's a cracker, grey on grey.  It's unusual to find one on dead wood. 

Finally, here's one in a classic position.

We are seriously overdue a good summer, and this year is 40 years on from the long hot summer of 1976, the ultimate butterfly summer of modern times.  The last good summer we had was ten years ago, in 2006 - 30 years on from the long hot summer.  So, jack in the job, sell the children into slavery, send the spouse off to the mother-in-law's and go Emperoring - the long hot summer's returning...

Thursday, December 24, 2015


Still feeding my adults on Christmas day. Continual rearing certainly appears to be a possibility for these species. MERRY CHRISTMAS everyone.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Shock Horror!

Purple Emperor larvae resent each other's presence almost as much as adult males, so I was amazed to find two hibernating next to each other in Safernoc (ancient spelling of Savernake) today.  Not the greatest of photos but it was too windy for photography -

Here's a wider view -

I was also surprised to find one hibernating a fair way along a dead branch, only the second time I've found one hibernating off a live branch (out of about 120 wild hibernating larvae) -

And here's a nice bicoloured larva, indicating just how chameleon-like they can be -

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Sallow leaf damage

How likely is this leaf damage (on a fallen sallow) to have been made by Purple Emperor, or could it be any of numerous species of Lepidoptera - the location is Epping Forest, Essex? We are still trying, in a lazy kind of way, to find our first larva. Thanks, Liz & Andrew