Hackberry Emperor Butterfly: Identification, Life Cycle, and Behavior

In this article, you’ll explore the fascinating world of the Hackberry Emperor Butterfly, unraveling its unique characteristics, life cycle, and behavior.

We will guide you through its identification, diet, threats, and its place in the ecosystem.

Certainly, by the end, you would have gained comprehensive knowledge about this interesting species.

Hackberry Emperor butterfly

What is the Classification of Hackberry Emperor Butterfly?

The Hackberry Emperor Butterfly, or Asterocampa celtis, is part of the Kingdom Animalia, specifically within the phylum Arthropoda.

It classifies under the class Insecta and order Lepidoptera, which groups butterflies and moths. The family Nymphalidae, commonly known as brush-footed butterflies, houses this species.

Here are its taxonomic details, displayed in a natural hierarchy:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Class: Insecta
  • Order: Lepidoptera
  • Family: Nymphalidae
  • Genus: Asterocampa
  • Species: Celtis

The genus Asterocampa, to which the Hackberry belongs, consists of similar species often referred to as emperors due to their regal appearance and behavior. Furthermore, celtis pertains to its preference for Hackberry trees as a host plant during its larval stage.

The Hackberry Emperor, with its earthly brown color and intricate pattern, hardly escapes notice in its natural habitat.

As a member of the brush-footed family, it exhibits a unique characteristic: Two of its six legs are modified into brush-like structures used for sensory purposes.

By understanding the scientific classification, you gain a deeper understanding of the Hackberry Butterfly’s place in the insect world and its unique characteristics that set it apart.

What is the Distribution of Hackberry Emperor Butterfly?

Indeed, the Hackberry Emperor Butterfly (Asterocampa celtis) is primarily distributed across the eastern half of the United States.

Over the years, these attractive creatures have adapted to survive in a variety of habitats – from woodlands to suburban gardens.

In the north, these butterflies find comfortable homes in regions extending from Maine and southern Wisconsin, all the way down to Florida in the south.

Pushing west, their presence can be seen up to Nebraska and Texas.

They are sparse or absent, however, in the farthest western and northeastern states.

Around the period of spring to late summer, you will come across an influx of these creatures. Whether you’re strolling through their common habitats, or happen to have hackberry trees – their go-to host plant, in your garden.

If you live within their range, keep your eyes peeled, for you never know when you might encounter one of these fascinating insects.

The Hackberry Emperor is a non-migratory species. They stay close to hackberry trees that they feed, breed, and lay eggs on.

Approximately 90% of their entire life is spent within a short distance from these trees. Hence, they are found in abundance in areas populated with their favored host.

This diverse geographical distribution and adaptability to various environments make Hackberry Emperor Butterfly a fascinating study in the world of Lepidoptera.

What Are the Main Characteristics of the Hackberry Emperor Butterfly?

Distinct in its bronze and brown palette, the Hackberry Emperor Butterfly (Asterocampa celtis) is an equally fascinating and elusive creature.

Its dorsal side, the upper surface of the wings, flaunts a mix of tawny orange and patchy brown, adorned with small, white spots.

In contrast, the ventral side, or underwings, display a much more subdued coloration — varying shades of brown, beige, and cream with eye-catching, shimmering blue spots near the margins.

  • Size: Generally, the Hackberry Emperor measures between 1.5 to 2.5 inches (3.81 to 6.35 cm) in wingspan. An adult male typically falls on the smaller end of the size scale, while females tend to be larger.
  • Antenna: This species possesses thin, club-tipped antennas. Their antennas give them a keen sense of smell, making them adept at locating nectar and mates.
  • Eyes: Equipped with large, compound eyes, the Hackberry Emperor has an excellent vision, enabling it to spot predators and food from a considerable distance.
  • Legs: It possesses six, long legs, which isn’t just for mobility but also plays a crucial role when it comes to feeding, as they use their legs to taste.

Make no mistake, the Hackberry Emperor Butterfly’s standout feature remains its flight pattern. Characterized by erratic, unpredictable yet fast movements, their flight leaves many admirers and predators bewildered.

With these unique characteristics, the Hackberry Emperor holds a special place in the wondrous world of butterflies, signifying the captivating interplay of evolution and ecology.

How to Identify Male and Female Hackberry Emperor Butterfly?

Butterfly identification can sometimes be a daunting task, yet it can be made easier by paying attention to key characteristics.

Color is often the most obvious difference between male and female butterflies, but not so with the Hackberry Emperor.

Males and females are usually similar shades of brown, with markings of cream or white. However, males are generally slightly more vibrant, a subtle contrast created by their scales which reflect light differently than those of females.

In a Hackberry Emperor, size is a hidden clue about their sex. Males tend to be smaller than females, but the difference is not substantial. Females often have a wingspan of about 1.8-2.3 inches (4.6-5.8 cm), whereas males would clock a bit less.

Behaviour is another distinguishing factor. The male Hackberry Emperor is more likely to be found sunning itself on an open tree trunk or muddy path.

Males are territorial and they perch on trees or shrubs in their selected habitat, waiting for females to fly by. Females, on the other hand, can be seen flitting around foliage where they lay their eggs.

Remember, accurately determining the sex of Hackberry Emperor butterflies may require a bit of patience and practice.

It is best to calmly observe their behaviour, physical attributes, and consider the context of their activity. Using these cues, your skills in identifying this marvellous creature will improve with time. Happy butterfly watching!

What is the Mating Ritual of Hackberry Emperor Butterfly?

Getting a glimpse of the mating ritual of the Hackberry Emperor Butterfly is a sight to behold. Interestingly, the males exhibit a charm-filled behavior known as “perching”.

Perching is simply an act of the male butterflies scouting out for females from a strategic location, typically a sunlit spot on foliage, the ground, or even buildings.

When a female Hackberry Emperor Butterfly passes by, the male would give chase, a thrilling and spirited aerial performance. If the female is receptive, the mating process begins and extends for an hour, sometimes transitioning to nightfall.

As part of the unique ritual, females often lay their eggs singly on the underside of host leaves. This protects the eggs from predators and harsh weather conditions.

Keep in mind that each female has the capacity to lay hundreds of eggs, a fascinating feat designed to ensure the continuity of the species.

The ritual ends with the female returning to the same plant to deposit her eggs, ensuring the hatchlings have enough food supply.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this insight into the Hackberry Emperor Butterfly’s mating ritual. Not only is it magnificent, but it also speaks to the diligent and comprehensive nature of nature’s designs. To see it in action is to witness a spectacular event.

What Does the Caterpillar of Hackberry Emperor Butterfly Look Like?

The caterpillar of the Hackberry Emperor Butterfly, also known as Asterocampa celtis, is a vibrant creature with a distinctive appearance.

When you come across one, you may notice its large head, lined with two dark spines and body segmented into various tiny protrusions.

Its color palette is truly remarkable. The body color of these caterpillars varies from a bright, alluring green to a darkish, almost mysterious brown. Black and white patterns often zigzag across the body, creating a unique, intricate design.

You’ll notice the interior sections of the caterpillar, surrounded by bright yellow lines. The dorsal hump, noticeable at the fourth and eight segments, is another key characteristic.

These humps, coupled with huge spiracles and white breathing holes, give the caterpillar a fascinating structure.

Moreover, their overall length varies to a considerable extent. They range from about 7/8 inch (2.2 cm) to a full 1 5/8 inches (4.1 cm) long, depending on their growth stage.

Another interesting feature is the manner these caterpillars move. Their movement often simulates a wave, gliding their way across leaves and branches.

In conclusion, the caterpillar of the Hackberry Emperor Butterfly is an exquisite creature to behold, a dazzling spectacle of Mother Nature.

Its unique blend of colors and pattern along with its distinctive anatomical features make it stand out in the wild.

Familiarizing yourself with these traits not only aids in identification, but also enhances your appreciation of nature’s intricate designs.

What is the Life Cycle of Hackberry Emperor Butterfly?

The life cycle of a Hackberry Emperor Butterfly follows four key stages.

  1. Egg: Females lay pale green eggs on the underside of hackberry tree leaves. The waiting period is short, with larvae emerging in about five days.
  2. Larva (Caterpillar): Your Hackberry Emperor caterpillar is stout and spiky, carrying hues of yellow, black, and white. The caterpillar will feed on the host plant leaves for about two weeks, shedding its skin several times during this period.
  3. Pupa (Chrysalis): After the feeding frenzy, your caterpillar will form a chrysalis. This transformation lasts approximately two weeks. During this rest period, it evolves into an adult butterfly.
  4. Adult: The crowning glory of the lifecycle, your adult Hackberry Emperor Butterfly, can live for up to two weeks. Throughout this period, it’s engaged in feeding and reproduction, ensuring the continuation of its species.

Each cycle is pristinely designed, with every stage having its specific role and duration. The life cycle encapsulates a perfect metamorphosis, marking the passage from a simple egg to a flamboyant butterfly.

What Is the Average Life Expectancy of a Hackberry Emperor Butterfly?

The average life expectancy of a Hackberry Emperor Butterfly greatly varies, much like many other butterfly species. Generally, butterflies’ lifespan is determined by a myriad of factors such as environmental conditions, predators, and access to food sources.

For the adult Hackberry Emperor Butterfly, they usually live for approximately two weeks. This is not uncommon among butterfly species, the majority of which have notably short adult stages.

This brief timeframe primarily consists of mating and laying eggs to ensure the posterity of their species.

The larva and pupa stages, conversely, can span up to several months. The Hackberry Emperor’s caterpillars bulk up during the warmer months, fortifying themselves for winter hibernation.

Encased in their chrysalis, they pause their development to endure the cold winter conditions.

As a whole, including the egg, larva, pupa, and adult stages, a Hackberry Emperor Butterfly’s life can stretch from six months to a year, depending on climatic conditions and resources availability.

Utilizing this ‘paused’ development allows these creatures to survive harsh winter months, consequently maximizing their life spans.

What Does the Diet of a Hackberry Emperor Butterfly Consist Of?

The dietary habits of the Hackberry Emperor Butterfly are captivating, and their regimen is not as simple as it may seem.

As with most butterflies, the adults lap up sweet nectar from a variety of flowers. These floral delicacies include but are not limited to, milkweed, aster, and goldenrod.

Furthermore, Hackberry Emperors also consume a diverse range of organic matter. They are attracted to tree sap, overripe fruit, dung, and carrion. Strange as it may seem, this array ensures necessary nourishment is taken in for their survival.

For the larva, or caterpillar stage, Hackberry Emperor Butteflies are considerably less adventurous in their dietary preferences.

Centered around the trees from which they get their name, they solely feed on hackberry leaves.

This specific diet is crucial for the caterpillars, providing the nutrients they need as they stand on the brink of their metamorphosis.

In closing, the Hackberry Emperor Butterfly clears a wide gambit in their eating habits across its lifespan.

From its initial stages as a leaf-consuming caterpillar to its diverse and unusual diet as an adult, their collective palate is as fascinating as their transformative life cycle.

Which Plants Serve as the Primary Hosts for Hackberry Emperor Butterfly?

Hackberry Emperor butterflies, as the name implies, primarily rely on the Hackberry tree. The females lay eggs on the leaves for the caterpillars to feed upon hatching. Hackberry trees are their primary host plant, providing essential nutrients needed during the caterpillar stage.

  • Hackberry tree (Celtis): These trees are native to North America and are the main plant host for this butterfly species.

Other plants that serve as hosts include the Sugarberry and American Elm. To a lesser extent, they might use other types of trees and shrubs, but Hackberry remains their primary choice.

  • Sugarberry (Celtis Laevigata): Though not as preferred as the hackberry, sugarberry trees are also used.
  • American Elm (Ulmus Americana): Rarely, Hackberry Emperor butterflies lay eggs on American Elm trees.

It’s interesting to note that these host plants greatly influence the butterfly’s life cycle. Caterpillars are particularly picky and stick mainly to Hackberry trees.

It’s truly intriguing how such a tiny creature is so reliant on a specific type of tree. So, if you’re aiming to attract these beautiful insects to your garden, including these plants in your landscape is a great start.

What are the Unique Mimicry Behaviors in Hackberry Emperor Butterfly?

The Hackberry Emperor Butterfly shows some amazing mimicry behavior. Their habit of flying close to the ground and landing with their wings spread wide is one form of this fascinating behavior. They often blend flawlessly with leaf litter, their wings mimicking dry leaves to escape predators.

Another powerful form of mimicry these butterflies exhibit is their capacity for sneaky feeding habits. They’re known to feast on mammal droppings, tree sap, or rotting fruits found on the ground.

This provides them with nutrients difficult to find in flowers. By doing so, they exhibit clever disguising techniques that enable them to discreetly blend with their surroundings while they feed.

But maybe the most interesting mimicry behavior of the Hackberry Emperor Butterfly is their reliance on human perspiration.

Quite strangely, this butterfly exhibits an unusual tendency to land on humans to drink sweat for sodium, which is crucial for their mating rituals.

In conclusion, mimicry behaviors associated with the Hackberry Emperor Butterfly are multifaceted and remarkable. One can’t help but marvel at the clever survival strategies they have devised as part of their natural evolution.

What Are the Main Threats to Hackberry Emperor Butterfly Populations?

There are numerous threats damaging the population of the Hackberry Emperor Butterfly. Habitat destruction ranks high among these. Increased urbanizations and agricultural activities directly affect Hackberry trees, which are vital to butterfly survival.

Pesticide use is also hazardous. Pesticides harm not only these captivating Hackberry Emperors but also their larvae and eggs. Overexposure disrupts their developmental stages, making it difficult for them to reach adult maturity.

Climate Change further compounds these problems. Variabilities in weather patterns lead to changes in the availability of feeding and breeding grounds. Such fluctuations cause stress to the butterfly populations, leading to population decline.

Lastly, the invasion of predators and parasites also poses significant threats. Ants, spiders, wasps, and birds feast on these butterflies, reducing their numbers considerably.

Despite the ongoing threats, awareness and efforts to conserve these butterflies are essential. Consistent monitoring and habitat preservation are crucial strategies to reverse the decline of Hackberry Emperors.

Understanding and mitigation of the threats they face, and an appreciation of their role in our ecosystems are key to preserving these fascinating creatures.


In summary, the Hackberry Emperor Butterfly, with its distinctive features and interesting life cycle, is an incredible part of the biodiversity.

Its unique behaviors and importance to ecosystem balance make it worthy of appreciation and protection.

Don’t forget to drop a comment below to share your experiences and thoughts about this fascinating species.

Butterflies   Updated: July 28, 2023
avatar Welcome to Insectic, a blog to learn about insects and bugs. I'm Richard, and I've created this website to share my experience, knowledge, and passion with others.

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