Monday, May 21, 2012


Global Emperors #1 – Bretagne, France May 2012
I live in Bretagne, France (Brittany) these days and spend a lot of time sitting around on dirt tracks between the end of June and the beginning of August. Yup, neck cramped and eyes peeled, dribbling beer and taking a leak in the middle of the path, waiting for a passing Emperor. Here in Brittany we have two Apatura emperors, iris and ilia. A. iris is found throughout Brittany. If you are in the woods and you find a stream with sallow and a good mix of other mature trees around, you’ll eventually see a male Iris floating through, hugging the lower branches or cruising high between the oaks. Later in the day i’ve not only seen but heard females as they crash into the sallow on their way to lay an egg.

 I have a couple of favourite sites but i’m never suprised to see Apatura iris in the woods anywhere in Brittany. Apatura ilia is a rarer beast. I’ve only seen it at 4 locations and quite by coincidence, one of them is my back garden. This emperor uses Poplars as a host and from my experience it seems dependant on plantation polars, planted for harvest on wet land where nothing else profitable will grow. This far west, it is certainly at the edge of it’s range. I found a previously unknown colony in the French department of Finistire a couple of years ago, and that is about as far west as you can get in continental Europe, just south of Cornwall.

Apatura ilia comes in two forms, f. ilia, similar in many ways to the slightly larger Apatura iris, and f. clytie in which the upper wings are washed with rusty orange. Males and females come in both forms and it really is a pleasure to see them in any form. It’s four years ago now that i found my first Apatura ilia in the back garden. I wasn’t really expecting it, You don’t do you? But there it was, a fresh male f. clytie sat on fig leaf, 12 feet from my back door on my bloody birthday!! So over the past few years i’ve got to know Apatura ilia quite well. We have Poplars in the garden and that’s where the larvae grow. The males are quite predictable and we see them from about 11am to 2pm puddling by the stream and from then till 9pm or so they are high in the sallow and oaks, keen and alert to chase down anything passing by. I’ve found pieces of ilia wings scattered in the veg garden after a successful kill, probably by one of the grey wagtails which the butterflies regularly pursue from their high perch. Experimenting with bait, i’ve found cat food from a can left out for a day or two in the sun works quite well, as does urine and a simple wet spot in the dry soil.

It’s only the males that come down to these baits and only in the morning and early afternoon. But I’ve attrached the girls also. Now, i always assumed that females didn’t come to bait and so the first time i saw a female Apatura ilia feeding from my tropical butterfly bait ( Bananas, beer and sugar), i thought it a fluke. But the next day i had another, a different female ilia, feeding from the same sugared fruit and this time it was late, just after 9pm. It had been hot and dry for a couple of weeks and quite a few males were around but seeing a female is still quite an event. Seeing a female Apatura ilia f. clytie feeding from bait at 9pm on your patio after a couple of Martinis and half a bottle of Pinot, well thats a happy day. So here’s hoping for a bit of sunshine for the 2012 emperor season eh? We have the same weather as the South-west of England here and it hasn’t stopped raining for months now.

Chris Rickards, Rohan, France.

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