Vigilant Empress Leilia Butterfly on Rocks in the Arizona Arroyo

Empress Leila Butterfly photographed by Jeffrey Zablow in White Tank Mountains Regional Park, Arizona

September in southcentral Arizona, west of Phoenix. White Tank Mountains Regional Park was in full splendor that morning, and HOT!

I’ve been to this Park over the years, slipping out mornings from Sun City West to take in the wonders of habitat so different from that of eastern USA. Only the arroyos offered wildlife, bone dry as they were.

Asterocampa leilia as expected remained vigilant on rocks in the arroyo. These silent sentries, this then presumably a male (not easy to determine, usually by wing girth) kindly allowed my approach. Arrive to close and poof! he’s moved to a new rock perch, a boulder some 30 feet away. So this image was not immediately captured. We played the move from rock to rock minuet until he mercifully permitted me to approach and shoot-shoot-shoot.

Empress Leilia and other xeric butterflies simply amaze me. There is no water evident for miles, they perch in full, overwhelming sun and no, there wasn’t an abundance of nectar bearing flowers around. In fact there were only these little tiny flowers along the arroyo, and few of them at that.

As the most dedicated wingedbeauty followers know, I am a big fan of butterflies with blue-centered eyespots. And there they are!


Empress Leilia Butterfly on a Spiny Hackberry Hostplant

Empress Leila Butterfly photographed by Jeff Zablow at White Tanks Mountains, AZ. Jeff blogs about the art and science of butterflies at

The rock strewn arroyo bed was as dry as the proverbial bone. It was September 12th at White Tank Mountain Regional Park west of Phoenix, Arizona, and Nectaring plants were very hard to find. Though 9:40 in the morning and of course with full Arizona sun, Empress Leila butterflies were here and there, flying and perching, flying and perching. Their host plant is spiny hackberry.

Astercocampa leilia are similar to, and closely related to Hackberry butterflies (see our Hackbery Emperor posts). Photographing here was difficult. When we spotted the butterfly, our approach had to overcome huge rocks. How these rocks were randomly placed in that arroyo is a tantalizing exercise in Physics.

As they are territorial like the Tawny and Hackberry Emperors, persistence with Empress Leila butterflies paid off. That is if it fled my approach, I knew it wouldn’t fly much beyond a definable perimeter.

Heat, boulders, and nearly unapproachable Leilias made for good memories, and a fair enough photo.

The heat, the heat, the heat.