hackberry emperor

(Asterocampa celtis)

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List

not yet assessed

hackberry emperor


N5 - Secure

S5 - Secure


not listed


Locally common in the south half of Minnesota, occasional visitor further north


Two broods: early June to mid-July and late July to early September


Edges and openings of moist deciduous woodlands, streams, parks—virtually any site with more than one northern hackberry tree


1 to 2½


This is a medium-sized brushfooted butterfly, with a wingspan of 2 to 2. Females are usually much larger than males and have broader wings.

The coloration of the wings is geographically variable. Within the state both dark forms and light forms are found. The upperside of the forewing is usually grayish-brown (dark form) near the base, fading to orangish brown toward the center of the wing, and black near the tip. On the pale form the base color is brownish-yellow. The central area of the forewing (cell) has a single black bar and two separated black spots. There is a single submarginal eyespot with a black pupil surrounded by orange. The pupil may have a small blue center. In the black area near the tip there is a jagged row of seven cream-colored subapical spots and a jagged row of four white submarginal spots.

The hindwing is orangish-brown. The basal portion of the hindwing is covered with long hairs. The margins is orangish with dark veins and a straight black border. There is a submarginal row of black chevrons and a postmedian band of black spots. The postmedian spots may have small blue centers.

The underside of both wings light brown and gray. The black spots from the upperside become on the underside yellow-ringed black eyespots with white centers.

The caterpillar is pale green and up to 1½ long. It is densely covered with short hairlike structures (setae). Each seta has an enlarged white base, giving the caterpillar a finely spotted appearance. A narrow subdorsal white stripe extends on each side from the head to the last abdominal segment. The neck is narrow. There are two antler-like horns attached to the upper (dorsal) surface of the head, and two spine-like projections extending from the last abdominal segment.

Mature caterpillars of the first brood are found in May and June, of the second brood in July and August.


Tawny emperor (Asterocampa clyton) is lighter and more colorful. The wing uppersides are brownish orange. The forewing does not have white spots in the apical area and does not have a black eyespot in the submarginal area. The forewing cell has two unbroken bars and no separate spots.

Larval Food

In Minnesota, leaves of northern hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) and possibly elm.

Adult Food

Tree sap; rotting fruit; animal dung, urine, sweat, and carrion; and occasionally flower nectar of staghorn sumac, red clover, common milkweed, and yellow sweet clover.

Life Cycle

The male will perch on a tall object waiting for a passing female. After mating the female will lay clusters of eggs on the leaves of a host tree. When the eggs hatch the larvae feed individually, not communally. The second brood overwinters as larvae.


Adults perch head down of tree trunks and the sides of buildings. Their flight is fast and erratic. Males are attracted to bright colors, and can be lured with red and white paper.

Though common within its range it is sometimes overlooked due to its tendency to fly around the tops of trees.

Distribution Distribution Map  

Sources: 7, 20, 21, 24, 29.


Communal Feeding
Some sources state that the larvae feed communally. According to Caterpillars of Eastern North America (Wagner, 2005), caterpillars of tawny emperor “feed communally through the third instar”, but the hackberry emperor does not feed communally.



Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths)











No Rank:



No Rank:




Papilionoidea (butterflies [excluding skippers])



Nymphalidae (brushfoots)



Apaturinae (emperor butterflies)

Subordinate Taxa

hackberry emperor (Asterocampa celtis celtis)

hackberry emperor (Asterocampa celtis reinthali)

Texas hackberry (Asterocampa celtis antonia)




hackberry emperor










In Lepidoptera: the large central area of the wing surrounded by veins.



The developmental stage of arthropods between each molt; in insects, the developmental stage of the larvae or nymph.



A usually rigid bristle- or hair-like outgrowth on butterflies and moths used to sense touch. Plural: setae.








Visitor Photos
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John Shier
  hackberry emperor    
MinnesotaSeasons.com Photos

Dorsal View

  hackberry emperor   hackberry emperor
  hackberry emperor   hackberry emperor
  hackberry emperor    

Ventral View

  hackberry emperor   hackberry emperor



  Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis)
Bill Keim
  Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis)  
  Hackberry Emperor butterfly
Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren
  Hackberry Emperor butterfly  



Visitor Videos
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Other Videos
  Hackberry Emperor (Nymphalidae: Asterocampa celtis) Showing Proboscis
Carl Barrentine

Uploaded on Jul 23, 2009

Photographed near Mekinock, North Dakota (23 July 2009).

  Hackberry Emperor feeding on dung
Stoil Ivanov

Uploaded on Jun 12, 2011

Hackberry Emperor ( Asterocampa celtis ) feeding on dung. Unlike the popular image of butterfly and flowers some butterflies actually eat dung and carrion.

  Hackberry Emperor (Nymphalidae: Asterocampa celtis) on Ground
Carl Barrentine

Uploaded on Jul 23, 2009

Photographed near Mekinock, North Dakota (23 July 2009). "For years and years I struggled / just to love my life. And then / the butterfly / rose, weightless, in the wind. / 'Don't love your life / too much,' it said, / and vanished / into the world." --Mary Oliver

  Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis)
Stoil Ivanov

Uploaded on Jun 12, 2011

Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis) eating dung

  Getting eggs out of hackberry butterfly females
Todd Stout

Uploaded on Jun 6, 2010

Demonstration of getting eggs out of Asterocampa celtis celtis females using a screen cage. Females in the wild lay on host with newer growth.




Visitor Sightings
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John Shier

You are free to use the attached pic.  It shows the "hackberry emperor" butterfly.  It was taken on Tuesday along the paved bike-hike trail about 1/2 mile east of the Schaar's Bluff trailhead in a Dakota County park.  The butterfly has landed on the paved surface.

I would call this butterfly "locally common".

hackberry emperor



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