Great Pur­ple Em­peror

Hid­den in North­east China

China Scenic - - WILDLIFE - By Cheng Bin Pho­to­graphs by Cheng Bin, and as cred­ited

My first mem­o­rable foray into the nat­u­ral world was early in my child­hood, watch­ing lit­tle yel­low but­ter­flies flut­ter­ing around the tops of wild flow­ers in the fields near my house. I would watch them dance from flower to flower, the field feel­ing alive, bub­bling with yel­low in­sects. Even at my young age this was more than just play; I was, it turned out, cre­at­ing a pas­sion.

Those child­hood ex­pe­ri­ences kin­dled my in­ter­ests and opened my eyes to the nat­u­ral world. It was, how­ever, not un­til many years later, when I was in high school and saw my first but­ter­fly spec­i­mens at a park sou­venir shop that my child­hood spark caught on and fully turned into a pas­sion. We were at a park for a class field trip, and even­tu­ally the park guide led us to a dis­play case near the cor­ner of the room. I only heard the word “but­ter­flies…” but that was enough for me. While other stu­dents ca­su­ally glanced in the box and then made their exit, I made my way to the front of the counter and peered over the edge. I was trans­fixed at the per­fectly posed but­ter­flies in the dis­play box. It was as if I had found a mine full of gem­stones. The col­ors, shapes, and or­nate pat­terns were oth­er­worldly. Then I saw a flash of blue pur­ple and my eyes were drawn to a few black and blue but­ter­flies hud­dled in the cor­ner. Their shape was not or­nate or ex­ag­ger­ated like some of the oth­ers, but their color was en­chant­ing: the deep dark blue al­most glis­tened, beam­ing with a dark sap­phire blue. I looked at the name plate be­low and saw “great pur­ple em­peror”, fol­lowed by their sci­en­tific name, Sasaki­acharonda . There they sat, aged but clearly as vi­brant as the day they were col­lected, stand­ing out amongst a vast sea of but­ter­flies.

Over time, those but­ter­flies be­came my ob­ses­sion. Af­ter sift­ing through a moun­tains worth of in­for­ma­tion, any­thing I could find on the species, I learned that the great pur­ple em­peror was first dis­cov­ered in Kana­gawa Pre­fec­ture, Ja­pan. The first spec­i­men col­lected was a male, its me­tal­lic blue wings catch­ing the light of the sun and giv­ing off a sur­real pur­ple iri­des­cence when it was caught, giv­ing it the name “the pur­ple but­ter­fly”. Soon there­after, once the world saw its beauty, it was re­named the “great pur­ple em­peror”. From un­known to em­peror in a short pe­riod of time. How fit­ting.

The love af­fair be­tween the Ja­panese and the em­peror lasted, the but­ter­fly be­com­ing so cher­ished that, in the 1950s, it was se­lected as Ja­pan’s na­tional but­ter­fly. Th­ese but­ter­flies can be found from the north­ern­most pre­fec­ture of Hokkaido, to the south­ern edge of the Kyushu. Out­side of Ja­pan they oc­cupy a wide range, from the Korean Penin­sula south­ward through China and on to Viet­nam and north­ern Laos. They are, truly, an Asian but­ter­fly.

The first time I saw one of th­ese fly­ing me­tal­lic gems alive was in Guang­dong, China, many years af­ter that first spec­i­men-box en­counter. I was wad­ing through a hu­mid pri­mary for­est, the sky blocked by the thick canopy of trees that were flooded with a ca­coph­ony of trop­i­cal birds and in­sects. I was ac­tu­ally try­ing to find one of those hid­den birds when a streak of pur­ple raced across my eyes. By this time, I was ex­pe­ri­enced enough and I knew what it was, and the chase was on. I fol­lowed its glit­ter­ing path and watched it glide, ac­cel­er­ate then dive, even­tu­ally be­com­ing sta­tion­ary, seem­ingly stand­ing on the thick hu­mid air. Its strong wings beat out a rhythm,

me­tal­lic pur­ple re­ver­ber­at­ing through the air! I tried to take pic­tures, but it was al­most im­pos­si­ble—it moved too fast, taunt­ing me with its beauty but never let­ting me close enough to pho­to­graph. Sev­eral but­ter­fly en­thu­si­asts with me com­mented on my some­what valiant at­tempts, not­ing that its beauty al­ways at­tracts peo­ple but its fly­ing acu­men and alert­ness is just too good. “It’s the hard­est species to catch on film,” I heard in the back­ground as I tried, and failed, to sneak up on one rest­ing on a branch. I learned quickly that the mighty em­peror is a para­dox of showy but shy, ex­trav­a­gant but hum­ble.

I have en­coun­tered the great pur­ple em­peror many times since that first sweaty en­counter in those vir­gin forests of Guang­dong; how­ever, no mat­ter where I go and how many im­pres­sively beau­ti­ful wild em­per­ors I see, the ones I find for sale or avail­able as spec­i­mens are all larger and more or­nate than the wild ones I see in nat­u­ral forests. I have trekked much of their range through­out China in search of the gi­ant em­per­ors, and have seen more than my fair share, but I have still never seen—in the wild—but­ter­flies as spec­tac­u­lar as those for sale or on dis­play as spec­i­mens. Why? Where do th­ese ones come from?

The an­swer, in part, is geography: al­most ev­ery one of th­ese out­lier spec­i­mens comes from the same mys­te­ri­ous val­ley, where but­ter­flies grow larger, more color­ful, and more sub­lime. Highly se­cre­tive, the but­ter­fly col­lect­ing world has not will­ing been ea­ger to di­vulge such in­for­ma­tion, but the ques­tion has been on my mind for a long time: where is this se­cre­tive but­ter­fly val­ley?

The Source of China’s Great Pur­ple Em­per­ors Spec­i­men

In the sum­mer of 2016, the ed­i­tor of Chi­nese Na­tional geography mag­a­zine con­tacted me, telling me that a se­cret “but­ter­fly val­ley” in the north­east of China had been dis­cov­ered, and in­quired if I had in­ter­est in trav­el­ing to see it. China’s north­east­ern re­gion is known to be cold, a hos­tile cli­mate for but­ter­flies, and also heav­ily in­dus­tri­al­ized. It was dif­fi­cult to imag­ine that in the chilled in­dus­trial heart of north­ern China there could be a haven for but­ter­flies. I wor­ried that the phrase “but­ter­fly val­ley” was noth­ing more than a tourism tac­tic, a way to at­tract vis­i­tors to an oth­er­wise un­war­ranted des­ti­na­tion. An ex­ag­ger­a­tion, I as­sumed, ready to turn his of­fer down. While I was say­ing as much over the phone, I re­ceived an email. I opened the at­tach­ment and saw on my screen hun­dreds of big, me­tal­lic pur­ple but­ter­flies hang­ing off the bark of a sin­gle tree trunk. A sec­ond photo showed a wider view, and I saw a for­est painted pur­ple—the but­ter­flies lit­er­ally cloaked the for­est.

I felt my skin tin­gle. Ex­cite­ment and con­fu­sion washed over me. I was not only stunned by their abun­dance, but also be­cause I had done my re­search and knew that while their range is ge­o­graph­i­cally vast, they are, as a species, not com­monly spot­ted in large groups. To find so many, in such a small piece of what should be chal­leng­ing ter­rain—logged forests, plan­ta­tions, and ur­ban in­dus­try—was as­tound­ing. I was de­ter­mined to go see.

True to my word, later that sum­mer I ar­rived in Liaon­ing Province’s Nan­zamu Town, in search of the pur­ported “but­ter­fly val­ley”. I pulled up a seat at a restau­rant near my ho­tel and started chat­ting with lo­cals, hop­ing to get a feel for the re­gion and its peo­ple. And the but­ter­flies. The name “Nan­zamu”, one man told me, was orig­i­nally a Manchu name given to the re­gion mean­ing “wild rose in full bloom”. It re­flected, he con­tin­ued, the beauty and the bi­o­log­i­cal wealth which the first peo­ple to set­tle here were sur­rounded by. I was more than a lit­tle shocked: the moun­tains here are not high, more like a range of hills than moun­tains, and are to­day cov­ered with mono-cul­tured plan­ta­tions in­ter­twined with stub­bly sec­ondary for­est, them­selves patched with clear-cuts left from the thriv­ing—and fi­nan­cially vi­tal—log­ging in­dus­try. Look­ing out across th­ese hills of tea, fruit, and stump-filled forests, I won­dered what they used to look like; what was the orig­i­nal Nan­zamu that at­tracted and held on so tight to the hearts of its peo­ple, and the shy me­tal­lic but­ter­flies?

This re­gion is an ac­tive and pros­per­ous log­ging re­gion, fa­mous for its bounty of large and straight trees. This fame is a boon to the log­ging in­dus­try, but a nag­ging con­cern for the wild forests. And herein lies the ques­tion at the heart of my ori­gin con­cern: how could a place at once be both a hotspot for a thriv­ing log­ging in­dus­try and a but­ter­fly oa­sis? How could the preser­va­tion of one not pre­clude the other? I still had lin­ger­ing doubts, but I re­mem­bered the pic­tures and the de­fi­ant urg­ing of my ed­i­tor, and I de­cided to stay pos­i­tive. Th­ese doubts, how­ever, were hard to sub­due when I started ask­ing lo­cals a sim­ple ques­tion: “Where are the but­ter­flies?”

Al­most to a per­son the re­sponses were quick, and to the point: “What but­ter­flies?”

Wan­der­ing the streets as I awaited my guide who, I was as­sured, would help me find but­ter­flies, my heart felt heavy: the hills around me are cov­ered in plan­ta­tions; scarred tree­less land forms a perime­ter in the dis­tance; the city be­fore me is lay­ered with in­dus­trial life and choked streets. Will this trip be fruit­ful? Is there ac­tu­ally a mys­ti­cal “but­ter­fly val­ley” some­where in the in­dus­trial chaos of this land? I gath­ered my thoughts amidst the ca­coph­ony of the city and the swirling dust of pass­ing trucks.

Sud­denly, as my mind was ar­gu­ing with it­self, I was greeted by that un­mis­tak­able streak of pur­ple that awoke my senses years ago in the sul­try for­est of Guang­dong—a huge great pur­ple em­peror but­ter­fly flut­tered by my face and landed on a long since for­got­ten pile of ce­ment be­side the road. I al­most screamed, half sur­prised and half elated— it was

so big, at least a third larger than the one I saw in Guang­dong! This dif­fer­ence might not be ob­vi­ous to a ca­sual observer, but to my eyes, trained by years of na­ture pho­tog­ra­phy and in hot pur­suit of but­ter­flies, the dif­fer­ence was re­mark­able. It was as stark as the dif­fer­ence be­tween Asian and African ele­phants! My dis­traught heart ig­nited with hope and my en­ergy was re­vived: there are but­ter­flies here! As I reached for my cam­era the lone pur­ple beauty flipped its wings and took off in to the in­dus­trial abyss, dis­ap­pear­ing with­out a trace.

At that same mo­ment, my guide, Mr. Zhou, ap­proached and in­tro­duced him­self. Not­ing my ob­vi­ous nat­u­ral­ist and pho­tog­ra­pher at­tire, he said through a smile “You must be here to see the em­per­ors!” I took note that he was a burly and strong man, skin tanned from years out in the sun, and as­sumed that he must be more than a guide. I soon found out that this was in fact so—he is also a busi­ness­man. But­ter­flies are his trade, and the for­est is his of­fice. “I kid you not” he said as we turned to face the dis­tant forested hills, “Ninety per­cent of China’s great pur­ple em­peror spec­i­mens come from this area”.

I re­mem­bered read­ing ac­counts of un­con­tacted tribes—vil­lages tucked away in the re­cesses of the Ama­zo­nian wilder­ness that re­main with­out con­tact to the in­dus­tri­al­ized and com­mer­cial­ized world— and how they have been granted per­mis­sion by gov­ern­men­tal agen­cies and en­vi­ron­men­tal groups to col­lect but­ter­flies. Th­ese col­lected but­ter­flies, ac­quired sus­tain­ably and strictly mon­i­tored, were sent to mar­kets in Europe and North Amer­ica, pro­vid­ing eco­nomic sup­port to the vil­lages. The ar­range­ment seemed fit­ting for the peo­ple of the deep un­touched Ama­zo­nia. I did not ex­pect that, in the bustling world of in­dus­trial China, that this ex­act same sys­tem would be not only present, but flour­ish­ing.

A Rot­ting Love: The Unique Diet of the Em­peror

I walked with Mr. Zhou through the dense city cen­ter and got into his car. We soon left the ce­mented world be­hind. The un­ex­pected heat puls­ing in through the car win­dow made me feel like I am in

those south­ern trop­i­cal forests, and I thought to my­self, re­as­sur­ingly, “Well, at least it feels like but­ter­fly ter­ri­tory”.

We pulled over. “From here we walk,” Mr. Zhou said, point­ing up the logged hill to a green point near its crest, a line of for­est that marks the point where the log­ging has stopped, for now. The sun above beat down with vengeance, and the air was frozen still. I soon re­al­ized that I was soaked with sweat and cov­ered in dust.

On­ward we hiked un­der the un­for­giv­ing sun, and the ex­tra weight of my cam­era and tri­pod started to wear on my mus­cles, and my nerves. Wip­ing a tor­rent of sweat from my face, I paused and gazed off into the dis­tance. I saw the green ridge that Mr. Zhou was aim­ing for, and no­ticed that be­tween us and the ridge the word be­came, piece by piece, a lit­tle greener. Soon we came to a large Bunge’s Hack­berry ( Celtis­bugeana ), a de­cid­u­ous tree with grey, flut­ter­ing bark with unique but in­con­spic­u­ous leaves. “This tree,” Mr. Zhou men­tioned as we stopped by its trunk, “is the only food of the great pur­ple em­peror lar­vae.”

I took a look at some of the lower branches to see if there are cater­pil­lars feast­ing on its leaves. Clothes soaked and drip­ping from sweat, I ex­haust­edly kept bal­ance by lean­ing on trees when I saw another tell- tale pur­ple streak through the lens. I looked up from my cam­era, and there, flut­ter­ing in the air is an em­peror. I fol­lowed it, as be­fore, and watched it dis­ap­pear. My spir­its were again lit aflame, and I was drawn to the green for­est ahead. We con­tin­ued up­wards and a few mo­ments later my feet landed near a stump of a long- ago felled tree, and the ground alighted in move­ment. Pur­ple but­ter­flies by the hun­dreds rose up and took to the sky. In the still air I not only saw them, but could hear their soft flut­ter­ing wings adding a soft pur­ple per­cus­sion to the si­lence. I fol­lowed one and it again landed on a nearby stump. It was sit­ting still with folded wings, its still body be­came cam­ou­flaged and was en­veloped in se­crecy by the back­ground world. Then a gust of wind awak­ened the scene. The world of brown, cov­ered in stumps and dried leaves, flut­tered and shim­mered in the breeze, a blan­ket of flut­ter­ing wings gen­tly re­veal­ing their in­ner pur­ple me­tal­lic glit­ter. In an in­stant, the world around me was cov­ered in but­ter­flies.

It is a com­mon mis­con­cep­tion that but­ter­flies all share a pen­chant for flow­ers, at­tracted to the or­nate and scented nec­tar of flow­ers. The re­al­ity is much less ro­man­tic, and those “el­e­gant” but­ter­flies that sip on nec­tar and pose for pic­tures per­fectly on their flo­ral buf­fet are not the whole story; other species, such as those mak­ing up this sea of glit­ter­ing pur­ple around us, pre­fer to eat from rot­ten and de­cay­ing plant ma­te­rial. The dead tree is their “flower”, the ran­cid and acidic sap their “nec­tar”. This is the great pur­ple em­peror’s niche, and a key to its suc­cess—sur­viv­ing on the death of a tree.

I had read pre­vi­ously that this species has a soft spot for acidic sap that are part of the rot­ting process, and sit­ting here in the swel­ter­ing heat of the open land, I un­der­stood just how true this is. The shrubby, stump laden land around me was rife with a dizzy­ing acidic stench—a heaven to the great pur­ple em­peror.

I ap­proached a patch of but­ter­flies and crouched down low, al­most eye to eye. I feared that my pres­ence would scare them away, but they con­tin­ued to sit on the ground, wings slowly open­ing and clos­ing, and all but ig­nor­ing me. I felt the col­lec­tive vi­bra­tion of their slowly swip­ing wings as they sucked up the juice of the rot­ting for­est at my feet. I raised my cam­era slowly, wait­ing for an op­por­tu­nity to take a pho­to­graph, and started to click. Sud­denly a brave, bold male but­ter­fly jumped from the ground and landed on my arm. Oth­ers fol­lowed suit, and soon my arm was speck­led with em­per­ors, and while I drank in the seren­ity and beauty of the mo­ment, they wasted no time drink­ing in my salty sweat. As their straw-like mouths gorged them­selves, I re­al­ized that, thanks to the heat and still air, I had be­come a buf­fet of a valu­able nu­tri­ents of­ten rare in forests.

The great pur­ple em­peror has a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing shy. My en­coun­ters with them, up un­til this mo­ment, have proven this to be true. Ex­tremely alert, they rarely al­low any­one to get close, re­main­ing lit­tle more than pur­ple streaks in the sky. But here, in the shoul­ders of an un­likely but­ter­fly haven, the same species is not only un­afraid of hu­mans, but ea­ger to bring them into their world.

The Fu­ture of Nan­zamu’s But­ter­fly Val­ley

Fol­low­ing Mr. Zhou through the for­est edge and into the richer and more di­verse for­est at the top of the ridge, the world be­came dark. Mr. Zhou walked through the sun-flecked for­est, telling me every­thing he knows about the but­ter­flies, now sur­round­ing us by the thou­sands. And although, like him, many of the lo­cals make their liv­ing catch­ing and sell­ing th­ese but­ter­flies, their col­lec­tions do not threaten the em­peror’s pop­u­la­tion. Busi­ness con­tin­ues year to year, handed down gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion. But this busi­ness is not harm­ing the pop­u­la­tion.

Part of the sus­tain­abil­ity of col­lect­ing this but­ter­fly species has to do with their breed­ing strat­egy. Com­pared to mam­mals, for ex­am­ple, which may give birth to only one or a few off­spring each year, but­ter­flies have very high re­pro­duc­tion rate. This is part of the R-K se­lec­tion the­ory: ei­ther pro­duce one off­spring and give it great parental care, like hip­pos or ele­phants or hu­mans, or pro­duce many upon many, and let them rel­a­tively fig­ure things out on their own, like but­ter­flies. This is a trade­off that seems to par­ti­tion most of the wild world—plants in­cluded. Have one off­spring and give it ex­cep­tional care en­sur­ing its sur­vival, or have many and as­sume that a good pro­por­tion will sur­vive. Both strate­gies fuel fu­ture gen­er­a­tions, but only those like th­ese but­ter­flies have

a strat­egy that is con­ducive to col­lec­tion.

As a re­sult, the but­ter­flies flood the for­est with off­spring, evo­lu­tion­ar­ily “know­ing” that only a por­tion will sur­vive, but also that there will rarely if ever be a pop­u­la­tion de­cline. Even if mor­tal­ity rates are high, as long as the en­vi­ron­ment is suit­able and there are re­sources, the pop­u­la­tion is re­pro­duc­tively strong enough—each fe­male but­ter­fly will pro­duce some­where around 40 to 60 eggs a cy­cle, with up­wards of 500 in its life­time—and will re­cover from mo­men­tary losses.

As Mr. Zhou traced a route through the for­est he was sur­rounded by glit­ter­ing pur­ple em­per­ors. He told me that th­ese but­ter­flies are in his heart, and their beauty is, to him, na­ture’s magic. But there is more on his mind than just the beauty of th­ese hills and their bounty of pur­ple fly­ing in­sects—if he and the other col­lec­tors can con­tinue to har­vest sus­tain­ably with proper eco­log­i­cal aware­ness and mon­i­tor­ing—this re­gion of Nan­zamu can be pe­ti­tioned to be turned into a pro­tected area. The vi­tal re­main­ing forests can be saved, and the reg­u­la­tions that fol­low le­gal pro­tec­tive sta­tus can help main­tain this still-func­tion­ing but dwin­dling ecosys­tem. And, as part of the deal, if he and other col­lec­tors can con­tinue to make a liv­ing from th­ese forests, it may be a bright fu­ture for both. Th­ese ques­tions are al­ways on the minds and points of con­ver­sa­tion among Mr. Zhou and his fel­low col­lec­tors. In the end, while they want to make a liv­ing, they also want to make sure the skies are for­ever filled with th­ese large pur­ple but­ter­flies.

“We’re los­ing day­light.” Mr. Zhou said al­most un­der his breath as he stared at a clus­ter of but­ter­flies. “This way” Mr. Zhou said, point­ing to a gen­er­ally nor­mal look­ing patch of for­est, thick with trees, stumps, shrubs and, of course, pur­ple but­ter­flies. Some were glid­ing, some div­ing, some con­tented with stand­ing alone on a tree trunk, while oth­ers were in hot pur­suit, males af­ter fe­males. Af­ter a few mo­ments we broke through the edge of the for­est and emerged once again to the hill slope and met up with the same trail that brought us here. We fol­lowed it down, guided by the or­ange set­ting sun, and left the but­ter­flies and their hid­den world be­hind.

In Ja­pan’s Saitama Pre­fec­ture, there is a place called Arashiyama-cho that is fa­mous for its great pur­ple em­peror but­ter­flies. In fact, they have es­tab­lished the “Great Pur­ple Em­peror But­ter­fly For­est Cen­tre”, a pro­tected for­est area di­vided into four sec­tions: pro­tected for­est, dis­play for­est, ex­per­i­men­tal for­est, and ob­ser­va­tion for­est. While the for­est is a busy lo­ca­tion for re­searchers and staff year round, be­tween June and Au­gust the ob­ser­va­tion for­est is

It is hard to be­lieve that de­spite the un­doubt­edly large pop­u­la­tion of great pur­ple em­peror in Nan­zamu, only a few peo­ple are aware of the ex­is­tence of this unique species. The lo­cal econ­omy is sup­ported by the wood in­dus­try and the dense forests hide the“but­ter­fly val­ley” from sight. The Se­cluded “But­ter­fly Val­ley”

Dis­tri­bu­tion of Great Pur­ple Em­peror in Eastern Asia

Data/ Li Kai

In Ja­pan, the great pur­ple em­peror is called the“na­tional but­ter­fly”and is listed among Ja­pan’s near-threat­ened species. Yet in other coun­tries of Eastern Asia, such as Korea, Viet­nam and China, large pop­u­la­tion­sns can be found and so it was not found to be in need of f pro­tec­tion. There­fore, it was not in­cluded on the In­ter­na­tionaler­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture (IUCN) Red List.

Photo/ Huang Ruiqiang

The “Bold” But­ter­flies Most but­ter­flies are vig­i­lant in­sects, yet dur­ing the ex­pe­di­tion to the val­ley of but­ter­flies, our pho­tog­ra­pher is sur­prised that the great pur­ple em­per­ors in Nan­zamu show no fear of hu­man pres­ence. This is quite dif­fer­ent from the be­hav­ior of their rel­a­tives in other places of China. In Nan­zamu, the but­ter­flies dare to fly just few inches away from us and some­times they even land on our cam­eras and our shoul­ders. Per­haps the lim­ited hu­man dis­tur­bance here can ex­plain this un­nat­u­ral phe­nom­e­non.

Given the fea­tures that dis­tin­guish the great pur­ple em­per­ors in Nan­zamu from those in other places, this town has be­come the most im­por­tant spec­i­men pro­ducer. In­tact in­di­vid­u­als are col­lected, then trans­ferred and sold to col­leges, mu­se­ums and in­sti­tutes. In fact, sta­tis­tics show that more than 90 per­cent of China’s great pur­ple em­peror spec­i­mens come from the small town of Nan­zamu. The Largest Spec­i­men Pro­ducer

Photo/ Zhang Chao

The Mys­tery of Scales Gen­er­ally, the iri­des­cent wings of but­ter­flies are closely re­lated to the mi­crostruc­tures of the cov­er­ing scales. The an­gle of sun­light hit­ting the tiny“ridges”and“val­leys”on the scales cre­ates var­i­ous col­ors. How­ever, re­cent re­search in­di­cates that light re­flec­tion does not fully ex­plain the splen­did wings of but­ter­flies—some species are born with wings cov­ered with col­ored pig­ment, mak­ing their wing color sta­ble, un­change­able by any an­gle.

A But­ter­fly That Fa­vors Stinky Foods

In­flu­enced by paint­ings and movies, most peo­ple be­lieve that but­ter­flies and flow­ers go to­gether. In­deed, some species, such as the swal­low­tail but­ter­fly, do feed on nec­tar and peo­ple of­ten find them rest­ing on flower petals or sta­men. But fa­vorite foods of the great pur­ple em­peror are juices with sour or stinky smells. We find that by us­ing stinky tofu (a fa­mous, tra­di­tional food), we can at­tract large swarms of great pur­ple em­per­ors.

➲ A glass soaked in stinky tofu juice has at­tracted a great pur­ple em­peror that will stay and en­joy its meal for hours.

A Pre­cious Photo of Mat­ing Flight Ev­ery sum­mer, swarms of great pur­ple em­per­ors gather and start their mat­ing flight (also known as courtship flight). Each male spares no ef­fort, fly­ing high above the fe­males in or­der to make them re­ceive the pheromone se­creted from his body. In Chi­nese paint­ing, a pair of but­ter­flies, chas­ing each other above flow­ers, is a fre­quently-adopted theme. In fact, such a scene is easy to spot with your eyes but hard to cap­ture with a lens. But­ter­flies are tiny, fast in­sects and to shoot their move­ment re­quires highly trained skills, as well as pa­tience. Thus, tak­ing this clear photo of a pair of great pur­ple em­per­ors dur­ing their mat­ing flight is an ex­tremely dif­fi­cult task.

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