Tawney Emperor Butterfly; Asterocampa clyton

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Tawny Emperor
Asterocampa clyton
Host plants (larval food plants) are hackberry and sugarberry.

Tawny Emperor butterflies overwinter as caterpillars (larvae). With silk webbing, caterpillars 'sew' leaves to the twig and 'sew' leaves together to make winter nests called hibernaculums. Caterpillars change from their normal green color to brown when they enter winter diapause. Host plant tree leaves fall to the ground in the winter. Leaves sewn on by caterpillars stay upon the tree. In the spring, when fresh leaves have started growing, caterpillars emerge from thier hibernaculums, leave diapause, and start eating growing again.

Hackberry Emperor butterflies also use hackberrry/sugarberry as host plants. During spring and summer they make nests to stay in while not eating. Both Hackberry and Tawny Emperor caterpillars will stay in the same nest, emerging to eat. Although some species of butterflies (like the Long-tailed Skipper) will keep thier nests clean by removing all frass,
Tawny and Hackberry caterpillar nests are often filled with frass.

How can you tell the difference between Hackberry Emperor and Tawny Emperor caterpillars? Hackberry caterpillars sport a row of dots down the middle of their backs. Tawny caterpillars sport a line down the middle of thier backs.

Tawny Emperor adult butterflies prefer to feed upon rotting fruit, dead animals, tree sap, and manure before feeding upon flower nectar.

Ther result is a square 'pyramid'.
Tawny Emperor Female
Asterocampa clyton
Tawny Emperor eggs
Eggs are often laid in
squares, in layers.
Over 150 tiny caterpillars
were found on this leaf.
Earlier instar caterpillars still
stay and eat together on leaves.
Different sizes as well as
species will nest together.
The large caterpillar in this
photo is a Hackberry caterpillar.
Same photo with arrows indicating the
difference between a Hackberry and Tawny caterpillar.
While not eating,
caterpillars spend time
hiding quietly in their nests.
Frass collects in this
summer caterpillar nest.
A fifth instar caterpillar,
nearing pupation age.
Face down, a caterpillar's
interesting head outline is easily seen.
A caterpillar has attached itself to a leaf.
It is in the process of changing into a chrysalis.
A Tawny Emperor chrysalis (pupa)
Fall early instar (young) caterpillars 'sew'
a leaf to a twig for their winter nest.
A fall nest of caterpillars in diapause blends
in with other dead and dying leaves on the tree.
The nest opened reveals caterpillars which are
turning and have turned brown as well as one green caterpillar.
When raised in captivity, caterpillars are not
picky about the placement of their nest or of what it is made.
The difference between a male
and female is obvious by
the curve of the hindwing.
Click on photo to enlarge to see arrows
indicating difference in curves of wing.
A female Tawny Emperor drinks from
an over-ripe loquat fruit.