Hackberry Emperor Butterfly

Hackberry emperor butterfly photographed by Jeffrey Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park, PA

You don’t forget this. When you have just begun your serious goal to photograph butterflies, and begun your nearly daily fieldwork, the trails you travel can be thankfully free of other people, and sometimes, a bit too lonely and deserted. Both thoughts alternate, at times. There are several butterflies that break those moods, and provide a smile at the corners of your lips, and a bit of reassurance that you are not wholly alone in your quest for dropdead striking images of Leps.

Asterocampa celtis is an excellent example of a butterfly that will meet you on your trail, sometimes guide you along for a bit, and fly back to await the next hiker or whatever. Once in a while your hackberry host will fly onto your sleeve or hat or backpack . . . resting there a bit, as if to coach, “Keep going, I’ll go with you for a little bit.” You know that this is a smige of fancy, but, while you’re in their company, it ain’t that bad . . . Others will fly up from the trail, into a nearby tree, never more than say 10 feet up from the trail. Should you return in 5 minutes, that same fella will be right back at the same spot on the trail.

Our instant Hackberry emperor is a handsome gent, resting in the morning sun, and showing off his white dots, eyespots, chevrons and browns associated with the finest of shoe leathers. Madison Avenue in New York had the most amazing shoe stores. His assortment of browns reminds me of the shmeksy choices offered on those $$$ shoe racks, of the extraordinary perfume of the leathers therein.

Very territorial, these male butterflies stake out their territory along trails, for hours on end. Females are more difficult to spot. When you find these butterflies, you can be certain that their hostplants, hackberry (Celtis) trees and shrubs are nearby. So in Raccoon Creek State Park, in Pennsylvania, where we met this hackberry.

They are also often seen on scat. Whether in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Georgia or Mississippi, if there is fresh scat left by a carnivore, expect to see a collection of Hackberry emperor males and the closely related Tawny emperor males. Remember, males fly alot, resulting in much protein wear and tear. The proteins available in the scat of meat eaters, and the minerals therein, enable their bodies to synthesize replacement protein, to remain buff, and to give them the vah-vah-vah-voom to attract suitable mates.