Purple Emperor Butterflies

Purple Emperors are one of the most astonishing successes of the rewilding project. None having been recorded here in the recent past, Knepp is now home to the UK's largest colony of this rare and spectacular butterfly.

Second only in size to the Swallowtail, the Emperors were first seen at Knepp in 2010. The males display in the canopy of the oaks, marking out their territory in competition for females. They are surprisingly aggressive, and will chase away anything else that flies – including birds. 

It is our emerging sallow scrub, however, that has attracted them here. The females lay their eggs on a particular type of sallow leaf. This only occurs on a very low percentage of hybridised sallows. Large areas of sallow are therefore needed in order to encourage large populations of Purple Emperors. However, in our modern landscape, sallow is rarely tolerated and consequently this lovely irridescent purple butterfly has become incredibly rare.

Unlike other butterflies, the Purple Emperor has decadent tastes. Shunning flowers, it feeds on fox scat and sap runs, more like a tropical butterfly.

Previously considered a 'woodland' species, the Emperor's success in the sallow scrub at Knepp is revealing new insights into its behaviour and habitat preferences.