This magnificent butterfly flies high in the tree-tops of well-wooded landscapes in central-southern England where it feeds on aphid honeydew and tree sap. The adults are extremely elusive and occur at low densities over large areas. The males occasionally descend to the ground, usually in mid-morning, where they probe for salts either from road surfaces or from animal dung.

The Purple Emperor declined steadily during the twentieth century and is now restricted to some of the larger woods in southern England. There has been a recent slight re-expansion in some areas.Restricted to large woods in southern England where they spend much of their time in the treetops. Females resemble the White Admiral, but have an orange-ringed eyespot under the forewing.  

Size and Family

  • Family: Nymphalids
  • Size: Large
  • Wing Span Range (male to female): 75-84mm

Conservation Status

  • Butterfly Conservation priority: Medium                    
  • European Status: Not threatened                           
  • Protected under Schedule 5 of the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act (for sale only)

    Caterpillar Foodplants

    Goat Willow (Salix caprea) is the most widely used foodplant although it breeds on Grey Willow (S.cinerea) and more rarely Crack- Willow (S. fragilis). Eggs are laid on a wide range of tree sizes, ranging from medium sized shrubs to tall canopy trees.



    Found in large blocks of broadleaved woodland or clusters of smaller woods and/or dense scrub with a good supply of willow.


    • Countries: England
    • Restricted to Southern and Central England
    • Distribution Trend Since 1970’s is unclear due to difficulty of recording

    Purple Emperor - Iain H Leach

    Purple Emperor (male/upperwing)

    Purple Emperor (female/upperwing) by Peter Eeles

    Purple Emperor (female/upperwing)

    Purple Emperor (underwing) - Andrew Cooper

    Purple Emperor (underwing)

    Purple Emperor (caterpillar) by Peter Eeles

    Purple Emperor (caterpillar)

    Purple Emperor (pupa) by Peter Eeles

    Purple Emperor (pupa)