Purple Emperor Butterfly

Apatura iris

Last updated: March 23, 2021
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock.com

Inhabits deciduous forests!

Purple Emperor Butterfly Scientific Classification

Scientific Name
Apatura iris

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Purple Emperor Butterfly Conservation Status

Purple Emperor Butterfly Locations

Purple Emperor Butterfly Locations

Purple Emperor Butterfly Facts

Main Prey
Larvae, Sap, Dung
Fun Fact
Inhabits deciduous forests!
Distinctive Feature
Long, curled tongue and brightly coloured wings
Deciduous woodland
Bats, Frogs, Birds
Average Litter Size
Favorite Food
Common Name
Purple Emperor
Number Of Species
Britain and Europe
Inhabits deciduous forests!

Purple Emperor Butterfly Physical Characteristics

  • Brown
  • Yellow
  • Blue
  • Black
  • White
  • Orange
  • Purple
Skin Type
6.2cm - 7.4cm (2.4in - 2.9in)

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The Purple Emperor is a large butterfly whose males have areas of iridescent purple on their wings.

The larger females do not have this iridescence, which is how the sexes can be told apart. Its numbers are declining largely due to habitat loss, as the sallow or willow trees where they lay their eggs and the broadleaf trees where they live are being cut down.

5 Incredible Purple Emperor Facts!

  • The Purple Emperor is a Palearctic butterfly, which means it’s found in Europe and Asia to the Himalayan foothills and in North Africa. The Palearctic realm is the largest of the ecological realms on earth.
  • It belongs to the genus Apatura. Most of the butterflies in this genus are known as Emperors.
  • Purple Emperors lay their eggs on the leaves of sallows, or willows, especially Goat and Gray willows. Occasionally, they’ll lay their eggs on poplar trees.
  • The Purple Emperor is the second-largest type of butterfly. Only the Swallowtails are larger.
  • The Purple Emperor’s conservation status is Not Threatened, even though its numbers are declining. It’s also protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981.

Purple Emperor Species, Types, and Scientific Name

The scientific name of the Purple Emperor is Apatura iris. Apatura is probably from the Greek word Apaturia, which means “the deceitful one” and was used to describe several goddesses. The word probably refers to the deceptive nature of the male Purple Emperor’s wings, which only show their iridescence under the right conditions. The other half of the butterfly’s scientific name, Iris, refers to the Greek goddess of the rainbow.

There are five known subspecies of Purple Emperor. They are:

  • Apatura iris iris
  • Apatura iris bieti
  • Apatura iris xanthina
  • Apatura iris kansuensis
  • Apatura iris amurensis

Appearance: How To Identify Purple Emperor

The wings of the Purple Emperor have a pattern of whites and shades of dark browns. Each hindwing has an eyespot of black, purple, and orange. The underside of the wings of both males and females are different shades of brown marked with white. Males are a bit smaller than the females, with a 2.8 to 3-inch wingspan. The wingspan of the females is 3.15 to 3.54 inches.

The eggs are green or yellow and can be found on the top of sallow leaves. They usually hatch after two or three weeks.

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The caterpillars are green with white stripes and dots. They molt or shed their skin five times before they pupate, and during their second molt, they develop horns on their head that make them resemble bright light green slugs. At night they eat the leaves of the willow where they were hatched. It takes about 10 months for the caterpillar to become fully grown, and that often means that they need to hibernate over the winter. A fully grown Purple Emperor caterpillar can be between 1.37 and 2.2 inches long.

When the caterpillar is ready to hibernate, it stops eating, turns brown, and shelters in the fork of a branch. When it wakes up, it starts to eat again, sheds its skin one more time then crawls up to the very top of the tree to pupate. There it creates a chrysalis that is between 1.18 and 1.38 inches long and 0.47 to 0.59 inches wide. It is camouflaged as a willow leaf.

The adult finally emerges in July and has a six-week life span.

A large Purple Emperor butterfly (Apatura ilia) sits on the land on a sunny summer day.


Habitat: Where to Find Purple Emperor

The main species of the Purple Emperor seems to be concentrated in several areas in England, especially the forests of southern England. This is where willows and other broadleaved trees are found. Some specimens have also been found in Monmouthshire in Wales.

Subspecies of the butterfly are found in Eurasia. Apatura iris bieti is found in central and western China as well as Tibet. Apatura iris amurensis can be found around the Amur and Ussuri Rivers. The Amur River is the border between Russia and Inner Manchuria, and the Ussuri River runs through Russia and northeastern China.

Diet: What Do Purple Emperors Eat?

The Purple Emperor caterpillar eats the leaves of the sallow tree. The butterfly is unusual in that it doesn’t sip nectar from flowers but takes nourishment from tree sap, the honeydew produced by aphids, and the moisture and salt produced by excreta and dead animals. Purple Emperors are so attracted to dead things that collectors used decaying animal carcasses to bait them, and the males sometimes get run over when they visit roadkill.

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Purple Emperor Butterfly FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are Purple Emperor Butterflies herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores?

Purple Emperor Butterflies are Omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and other animals.

What Kingdom do Purple Emperor Butterflies belong to?

Purple Emperor Butterflies belong to the Kingdom Animalia.

What phylum to Purple Emperor Butterflies belong to?

Purple Emperor Butterflies belong to the phylum Arthropoda.

What family do Purple Emperor Butterflies belong to?

Purple Emperor Butterflies belong to the family Nymphalidae.

What order do Purple Emperor Butterflies belong to?

Purple Emperor Butterflies belong to the order Lepidoptera.

What genus do Purple Emperor Butterflies belong to?

Purple Emperor Butterflies belong to the genus Apatura.

Where do Purple Emperor Butterflies live?

Purple Emperor Butterflies live in Britain and Europe.

In what type of habitat do Purple Emperor Butterflies live?

Purple Emperor Butterflies live in deciduous woodlands.

What do Purple Emperor Butterflies eat?

Purple Emperor Butterflies eat larvae, sap, and dung.

What are some predators of Purple Emperor Butterflies?

Predators of Purple Emperor Butterflies include bats, frogs, and birds.

What are some distinguishing features of Purple Emperor Butterflies?

Purple Emperor Butterflies have long, curled tongues and brightly colored wings.

How many babies do Purple Emperor Butterflies have?

The average number of babies a Purple Emperor Butterfly has is 100.

What is an interesting fact about Purple Emperor Butterflies?

Purple Emperor Butterflies inhabit deciduous forests!

What is the scientific name for the Purple Emperor Butterfly?

The scientific name for the Purple Emperor Butterfly is Apatura iris.

How many species of Purple Emperor Butterfly are there?

There is 1 species of Purple Emperor Butterfly.

Is the Purple Emperor dangerous?

The Purple Emperor is not at all dangerous to humans, but it is rather fearless. Males will see off birds of all sizes, including herons, from their territory.

What is a Purple Emperor?

The Purple Emperor is a type of butterfly. Besides the genus Apatura, it belongs to the family Nymphalidae, a huge family that contains 6000 species of butterfly.

Where can I see Purple Emperor butterflies?

Since Purple Emperor butterflies live in the canopies of forests, they are somewhat hard to see unless the person is patient. The best places to see them are areas in England such as the West Country, Fermyn Woods, Bently Wood and the western Midlands. Known as a strong flyer, the butterfly appears as black with white markings and can be as large as a small bat. Powerful binoculars are a must to catch a glimpse of this insect.

A person who doesn’t want to spend hours trying to spot this butterfly in the wild can see them in places such as Next Door Zoo.

How do you attract the Purple Emperor?

One way to attract a Purple Emperor is to prepare a place in a garden and, frankly, add decaying meat or something equally putrescent. A less off-putting way to attract the butterfly is to plant stands of sallow trees where the females can lay their eggs.

How much does a Purple Emperor sell for?

Given their elusiveness, Purple Emperor butterflies are probably not for sale. It has been placed on Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 which means it must not be captured, injured, or killed.

How many legs does the Purple Emperor have?

Like most insects, the Purple Emperor has six legs. They are connected to the thorax, which is the middle part of the body between the head and the abdomen.

What do Purple Emperor caterpillars eat?

The Purple Emperor caterpillars eat the leaves of the tree upon which they were hatched, which is most often the leaves of sallow, or willow trees. The butterflies take in sap and the secretions from aphids, rotting carcasses, feces, and urine.

How do Purple Emperor Butterflies have babies?

Purple Emperor Butterflies lay eggs.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

  1. Next Door Zoo, Available here: http://nextdoorzoo.com/2015/05/30/purple-emperor/
  2. Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apatura_iris
  3. Discover Wildlife, Available here: https://www.discoverwildlife.com/animal-facts/insects-invertebrates/facts-about-purple-emperor-butterflies/
  4. Butterfly Conservation, Available here: https://butterfly-conservation.org/butterflies/purple-emperor
  5. Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Available here: https://www.gwct.org.uk/wildlife/species-of-the-month/2020/purple-emperor-butterfly

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