Lesser Purple Emperor
Family - NYMPHALIDAE
subfamily - APATURINAE
Tribe - APATURINI
Apatura ilia praeclara, Anisimokva, Ussuri, Russian Far East
© J. Michel
Apatura comprises of 4 species, 2 of
which - iris and
ilia, have a widespread distribution covering most of Europe
and temperate Asia. The other 2 species are
metis which is found in south-east Europe, Kazakhstan and
s.w. Siberia; and laverna from n.e.
China. Apatura are closely related to
the South American genus Doxocopa, and
in common with them are sexually dimorphic - the males possessing a
beautiful purple sheen that is lacking in the females.
Apatura ilia has an almost unbroken
range stretching from northern Portugal to Siberia, Ussuri and
Japan. There are several alleged subspecies, each of which produces
a range of colour forms, but the degree of overlap of the various
forms suggests that these may be more attributable to climate or
habitat-controlled variation rather than to genetic differences.
Apatura ilia yunnana male, Yunnan, China
© Jean-Marc Gayman
species is found in damp deciduous woodlands, forests and river
valleys at altitudes between sea level and about 600m.
cooler localities there is a single generation per year emerging in
June. It is bivoltine in the warmer southern part of it's range,
producing a second brood of adults in August / September.
eggs are laid singly on the upperside of leaves of poplar trees (
Populus sp ) and less often on sallow (
Salix ). The larva ( except that of the
1st bivoltine generation ) hibernates when young, either on the upper
surface of a leaf which it has silked to prevent it from becoming
detached from it's twig; or in the fork of a narrow branch. When
mature the larva is pale green, marked with pale diagonal lines on the
sides, and is incredibly well camouflaged when at rest on sallow or
poplar leaves. The pupa is equally well camouflaged, and is suspended
from beneath a leaf.
Males, like those of its larger relative iris,
are well known for their habit of descending from the trees to feed at
unsavoury substances including faeces and carrion. They obtain vital
salts from these substances, which are passed to the females during
copulation, and are possibly essential for the production of fertile
Females are seen much less commonly, and
usually encountered when ovipositing on the lower foliage of the
foodplants. They are rarely seen feeding, and probably obtain most of
their nourishment from honey-dew ( aphid secretions which coat the
upper surface of leaves ).
Both sexes, like those of other
Apatura species, migrate to hill-tops or
ridges where courtship and copulation take place. After copulation
they return to the valleys where the females oviposit mainly on trees
growing along the edges of forest roads and tracks. Males often imbibe
fluids exuding from dug and carrion, or from tree sap, prior to
seeking a second or third female with which to mate.