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Tawny Emperor Butterfly (Asterocampa clyton)

Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Tawny Emperor Butterfly

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The large Tawny Emperor has a few variations in color, but none of them have the eyespots seen under the wings of other sovereign kin.

Updated: 09/20/2022; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
Tawny describes an orange-brown color that is common with this species of butterfly. The Tawny Emperor may also be more yellow-brown, or even a pale gray-brown or taupe. It is a large butterfly and is similar in appearance to the Hackberry Emperor. Both have the same range east of the Rockies, but the Tawny Emperor's is more concentrated in the center of that region. To differentiate between the two, check the underside of the wings for eyespots. Tawny Emperors do not have any underneath, but the Hackberry does. Two bold black bars near the 'shoulders' stand out on its forewing. These black bars are visible on the other side of the wing as well. A hazy, or blurry, row of small white spots ringed in brown form a choppy line on the hindwings. If the butterfly opens its wings flat, the top side of the Tawny Emperor has a row of dark eyespots on the bottom edge of the hindwings. Light patches with a dark brown edge on the forewing curve their way across it.

The caterpillar of the Tawny Emperor is a pale green with a dark blue-green line on the back. Its head has two horns on it that have branch-like extensions. Some extensions also extend from the side of the head. It congregates with siblings over winter and develops into an adult by spring. Like the Hackberry Emperor caterpillar, this species' caterpillar also feeds on the leaves of hackberry trees. One to three generations are produced in a year.

Aside from being pretty to look at, Tawny Emperors are known to also be quite affable. They rest on people that are willing, most likely to drink sweat from arms or legs. The salt in perspiration is a mineral often sought by butterflies, usually from less mobile sources. Adults also drink the pungent liquids found on rotting fruit, dung, and carrion. Look for this brown butterfly in or near woodlands that have hackberry trees in them.©InsectIdentification.org

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General Characteristics

Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon
Patterned insect icon
Striped or banded insect icon

Taxonomic Hierarchy

Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Lepidoptera
        Family: Nymphalidae
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          Genus: Asterocampa
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            Species: clyton

Identifying Information

Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Asterocampa clyton
Category: Butterfly or Moth
Size (Adult; Length): 48mm to 60mm (1.88" to 2.36")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: brown; orange; yellow; gray; black; white
Descriptors: row of brown dots; flying; beneficial; large; black bands; friendly

Tawny-Emperor-Butterfly Video(s)

A Tawny Emperor hanging upside down on a bush.

Relative Size Comparison

Typical Size Between 48mm (1.9in) and 60mm (2.4in)
Lo: 48mm
Md: 54mm
Hi: 60mm

Territorial Map*

U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Tawny Emperor Butterfly may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Tawny Emperor Butterfly. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.
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