Purple Emperor

Apatura iris


A strikingly beautiful butterfly, the Purple Emperor is only on the wing for a short period in late summer. A large butterfly of woodlands, it is well-known for spending much of its time in the treetops feeding on aphid honeydew, so a pair of binoculars is handy if you want so spot this dazzling insect. Males may be seen flying to the ground mid-morning to feed on salts and sugars in damp puddles, on animal droppings or road surfaces, or even on rotting carcases. The caterpillars feed on mainly on Goat Willow, although Crack-willow and Grey Willow are also used.

How to identify

The male Purple Emperor is an unmistakeable glossy purple above, with white bands across all wings and orange-ringed eyespots under the forewings. The female is similar to the White Admiral in appearance, but also has orange-ringed eyespots under the forewings. Females are larger than males and both are larger than the more common White Admiral.

Where to find it

Found in woodlands in southern England.


When to find it

  • June
  • July
  • August

How can people help

Populations of the Purple Emperor steadily declined during the 20th century and is now restricted to larger woods in southern England. The Wildlife Trusts manage many woodland nature reserves for the benefit of butterflies: a mix of coppicing, scrub-cutting, ride maintenance and non-intervention all help woodland wildlife to thrive. You can help too: volunteer for your local Wildlife Trust and you could be involved in everything from traditional forest crafts to surveying for butterflies.

Local information

Part of the BBOWT Bernwood Forest project involves managing woodland rides and paths to encourage butterflies, such as the purple emperor, by creating a range of habitats and corridors to link them. Reserves within the project area include Asham Meads, Bernwood Meadows, Finemere Wood, Rushbeds Wood and Whitecross Green Wood. To get involved in this project, join one of the local BBOWT work parties. You can encourage other butterfly species into your garden by planting nectar-rich plants.

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Species information

Common name
Purple Emperor
Latin name
Apatura iris
Butterflies and moths
Wingspan: 7-9.2cm
Conservation status