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A Nature Journal

Experience the natural world with east central Illinois master naturalists
Tawny Emperor - T. DeWitt

Meet the Tawny Emperor

Posted by Diane Wilhite -

This has been a good summer for butterfly sightings. The purple coneflowers in our gardens were a popular attractant for many; monarchs, red admirals, fritillaries, the occasional swallowtail and other familiar nectar sippers. We even hosted a buckeye, who for two days defended his territory. This was also the summer I learned that not all butterflies are drawn to flowers.

Meet the Tawny Emperor (Asterocampa clyton).  These butterflies burst out in our neighborhood in early August, and they could be seen almost anywhere but the flower beds. They hung out in our vegetable beds, raided our compost heap, and communed on the ruin of a rotten tomato. One bold youngster latched onto my husband's sweaty baseball cap as he worked outside, and stayed there a good half hour or more. They apparently feed at seeps, on sap and rotting foods for their liquids and nutrient content.

Tawny Emperors are very similar in shape to their close relative, the Hackberry butterflies (Asterocampa celtis). They each have a distinctive triangular shape when their wings are spread open. While the Hackberry butterflies are browns and tans with white markings, the Tawny Emperors are more rusts and oranges.

Both of these butterfly species depend on hackberry trees for caterpillar food. As I am fortunate enough to have a number of towering hackberries in my neighborhood, I have hopes that these little guys will return to entertain me next summer. If it will help, I promise not to wash my husband's baseball cap. - Article and Photos submitted by Teresa DeWitt (2013)

Photos: Top, A tawny emporer uses a baseball cap as a resting place; Middle: Leafy greens provides lunch to a Tawny Emperor; Bottom: the Hackberry Emperor's characteristic brown and tan color with white markings.


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