Purple Emperor (Apatura iris)
The Purple Emperor (A. iris) is a magnificent and elusive insect that is actively sought out by the many subjects of ‘His Majesty’, as the male butterfly is affectionately known. A. iris spends most of its time in the woodland canopy where it feeds on aphid honeydew, with the occasional close encounter when it comes down to feed on sap runs or, in the case of the male, animal droppings, carrion or moist ground that provide much-needed salts and minerals. Those that make annual 'pilgrimages of obsession' to see this spectacular creature will often try and lure the males down from the canopy using all manner of temptations - including shrimp paste, banana skins and human urine.
The male butterfly, which typically emerges in early July, sometimes at the end of June in good years, is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and sought after of all of the butterflies found in the British Isles. From certain angles it appears to have black wings intersected with white bands. However, when the wings are at a certain angle to the sun, the most beautiful purple sheen is displayed, a result of light being refracted from the structures of the wing scales.
The female, on the other hand, is a deep brown and does not possess the purple sheen found in the male. She is also a much rarer beast and an audience with an Empress is one to be cherished …