Purple Emperor (Apatura iris)

Scientific Classification

Domain: Eukaryota

Kingdom: Anamalia

Subkingdom: Metazoa

Phylum: Arthropoda

Class: Insecta

Order: Lepidoptera

Suborder: Rhopalocera

Family: Nymphalidae

Genus: Apatura

Species: Apatura iris

Common Name: Purple Emperor


Viewed from above (dorsal side) adult butterflies are dark brown with white bands and spots on their wings. There is a small orange 'eye spot' to the rear of each hindwing. Males have an iridescence giving them a blue to purple sheen.

Viewed from below (ventral side), the body and wings are lighter in colour than from the dorsal side. The underwing has a larger orange 'eye spot' with a dark, almost black centre on the forewing.

Male butterflies are slightly smaller than females and are around 70mm to 80mm from wingtip to wingtip. Females are recorded between 80mm and 92mm.

Larvae (caterpillars) are mostly green with some small yellow and white markings. They have three horn shaped appendages, two at the front (anterior) and one at the rear (posterior). Fully fed larvae range between approximately 35mm to 55mm long.

Pupae (chrysalides) are around 30mm to 35mm long and are pale green.

Habitat and Distribution

Dense broadleaf woodland, especially mature Quercus (Oak), where they fly high up in the canopy, feeding on aphid honeydew and tree sap.

Found throughout much of temperate Europe and Asia and eastwards to central China. It is localised and relatively scarce in southern France, Portugal, Spain and southern Italy and has not been found in Scandinavian countries or on Mediterranean islands. In the United Kingdom only the central southern counties of Hampshire, Surrey and Sussex are widely populated, with lower densities elsewhere. It has not yet been observed in Scotland or Ireland, although populations are gradually moving northwards, possibly because of climate change.

Adult butterflies tend to occur in small numbers over wide areas.