Filming VarWild: Apatura ilia

Life cycle of butterflies in Provence

The Lesser Purple Emperor (Apatura ilia f. clytie)

An extract of a documentary of 30 minutes.
The South of France is frequented by the more orange coloured type of Lesser Purple Emperor (Apatura ilia f. clytie Denis & Schiffermüller, 1775). This much localized butterfly, flies in two generations from May to the end of July and from the beginning of August until mid-September. It’s most commonly found in the canopy of alluvial forest strips at the edge of river banks. The Lesser Purple Emperor males differ from the females by a stunning iridescent purple color on the upper side of their wings. During the first moult a pair of forked-horns appears, from under the exoskeletal head capsule, characteristic of this species. At the end of the summer, the females of the second generation lay their eggs preferentially on damaged leaves and ones with autumn coloured hues. At the end of August, the caterpillars of the second generation hatch and enter in our region into hibernal diapauses at their 3rd stage. The caterpillars change color becoming brown, blending in with the discolored leaf or the stem on which they rest. The brownish caterpillars select a bud or branch of their host tree, the Italian poplar (Populus nigra f. italica), Simons poplar (Populus simonii) or the White Willow (Salix alba) on which to rest and over winter uncovered and motionless throughout the winter and remain, unlike areas further north, more or less the same size. And as soon as the young leaves appear, the caterpillars awake to feed on them, and gradually turn green. Although its habitat seems more or less intact, it is remarkable that this beautiful butterfly remains so elusive and rare, in our region.

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