New Jersey Butterflies

Tawny Emperor

Asterocampa clyton

Identification: Medium—2.15". Above: FW fairly bright tawny-orange with yellowish spotting but no eyespots. Two crooked but unbroken bars extend in from leading edge. HW variably tawny to dark grayish-brown with black submarginal spots. Below: FW brownish with pale spotting and narrow dark bands basally. Lacks eyespots of Hackberry Emperor. HW ranges from dull brownish-gray to well-marked with brownish areas and a pale postmedian band; both versions have inconspicuous, blue-centered eyespots.

NJ Status and Distribution: Resident. Generally uncommon throughout, but recently more common, at least locally, than Hackberry Emperor. Not a typical garden species as it rarely nectars, but will come to overripe fruit.

NJ Range Map-Tawny Emperor

Habitat: Deciduous forest edges and openings with the host plant. Like that species most often seen on bare ground and on roads, including paved roads. Fond of dung and carrion. Often lands on tree trunks when flushed from ground.

Flight Period: Two broods, the first from early June to mid-July, followed by a very small emergence from August to October. Extreme dates: North Jersey 6/7—9/27; South Jersey 6/3—10/11.

Larval Food Plants: Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis).

Overwintering Stage: Larva.

Best Locations: Delaware Water Gap NRA, Whittingham WMA, Higbee Beach WMA, and Sandy Hook GNRA.

Comments: If a butterfly lands on your house or place of work in June and July there is a good chance that is one of the emperors. If you plant hackberries they will come.

Tawny Emperor

Whittingham WMA, Sussex Co., NJ, 6/30/2006 (on some individuals the HW is more grayish-brown).

Tawny Emperor

Walpack Twp., Sussex Co., NJ, 6/23/05.

Tawny Emperor larva

Late-instar larva of Tawny Emperor.


Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), the caterpillar food plant.