#266 Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis)

25 November

A North American butterfly that belongs to the brushfooted butterfly family, Nymphalidae. It gets its name from the hackberry tree (Celtis occidentalis and others in the genus Celtis) upon which it lays its eggs. The hackberry tree is the only host plant for A. celtis and is the food source for larvae.

The hackberry emperor is known for being a quick, mercurial butterfly. It often is found along water sources and lowlands, although it lives in a broad range of habitats. Another notable characteristic is that it rarely is spotted visiting a flower, which is considered unusual for a butterfly.

Species in the genus Asterocampa are regarded as being “cheater” organisms, since these butterflies do not pollinate flowers when they feed from them. This species can more accurately be described as parasitizing their hosts and plant food sources since they extract nutrients without providing any benefits to the host.

As a member of the family Nymphalidae, the hackberry emperor oviposits its eggs in clutches, or clusters, upon hackberry leaves. There are a few plausible evolutionary reasons for this behavior, but the exact cause for this species’ behavior is contentious. Possible explanations include higher fecundity that may be aided by aposematic coloration.

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