Hackberry butterfly: typical visitor of a hackberry tree

The Hackberry butterfly is a North American butterfly of the family Nymphalidae. The name comes from its favorite host plant, the hackberry tree, and this butterfly is also known as the Hackberry emperor.

Hackberry emperor butterfly species summary

Scientific NameAsterocampa celtis
Family NameNymphalidae
HabitatWoodland edges, buildings, creeks, and dump muddy areas
RangeNorth Eastern Mexico and North America
Host PlantsHackberry trees
Butterfly DescriptionReddish brown upperside with a black eyespot and white spots.
Caterpillar DescriptionBrown-black head with black horns and green body with yellowish-white bumps

What is the color of a hackberry emperor butterfly?

hackberry butterfly
Hackberry butterfly

The Hackberry butterfly has a reddish-brown upperside, with dark brown wing tips. Its wingspan is 2.0 to 2.6 inches (5 to 6.6 cm). The forewings have a row of white spots and a black eye spot which distinguishes it from the Tawny emperor (Asterocampa clyton). The hindwings have a row of eyespots with blue-green centers.

Hackberry emperor butterfly caterpillar description

Hackberry butterfly caterpillar
Hackberry butterfly caterpillar

Hackberry butterfly caterpillars can grow up to 1.4 (3.6 cm) inches. The head’s lower half is green with green spikes. The upper half is brown with two black horns. The larva body is green with yellow-white bumps (chalazae), two tails, and white-yellow stripes.

How long does the hackberry emperor butterfly live?

Hackberry emperor adult butterflies’ lifespan is 6 to 14 days. The egg stage lasts 3 to 9 days, the caterpillar stage lasts 4 to 6 weeks, and the chrysalis (pupae) stage lasts 7 to 10 days.

Preferred host plants

The preferred host plant for Hackberry emperors is the hackberry tree. Hackberry trees can be either the southern sugarberry (Celtis laevigata) or the common northern hackberry (Celtis occidentalis).

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What does the hackberry emperor butterfly eat?

Adult butterflies have various food sources, but flower nectar is not a significant part of their diet. These butterflies feed on hackberry tree sap, rotting fruit, carrion, and animal droppings. Human sweat is also a moisture source for these butterflies because it contains sodium.

Ideal habitat and range

The Hackberry emperor butterfly loves the following habitats:

  • Wooded streams
  • River edges
  • City yards
  • Forest glades
  • Wooded roadsides

They live throughout the eastern United States except in Michigan and New York. They’re also common in Northern and Central Florida.

Hackberry emperor butterfly migration pattern

The Hackberry emperor butterfly’s overwintering strategy involves migration. There are three migrations of this species:

  • Immigration: Migration from warmer areas
  • Two-way migration: Migration from Wisconsin to Central Mexico
  • Small migration: Migration from Wisconsin to the southern US

Usual behavior

Asterocampa celtis have rapid flight patterns and have 2 broods from May to October. These butterflies use the patching strategy for mating. The patching strategy is where the male butterfly will perch on a tree in a “patch” of the territory where females are most likely to fly by.

After mating, the female will lay eggs in clusters on the underside of hackberry leaves. Laying eggs in clusters reduces the time the female spends searching for suitable leaves and increases the chances for successful hatching.

Common hackberry emperor butterfly predators

Like many other butterflies, birds, mammals, spiders, and other insects are usual predators of the Hackberry emperor butterfly.

There are also two common natural parasitic enemies for this butterfly species: 

  • Chetogena edwardsii, a tachinid parasite
  • Microcharops tibialis, an ichneumonid parasitoid

Hackberry butterfly symbolism

The Hackberry emperor is one of the brown butterfly species, so its symbolism is based on the symbolism of brown butterflies. They are associated with the earth and nature and symbolize new beginnings.

Some cultures in Asia, Native American tribes, and Africa associate brown butterflies with Mother Earth. So the butterflies are viewed as blessings for a good harvest, weather, or hunt.

In Christianity, brown butterflies are associated with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some people believe that if you see one of these butterflies on Easter, it is a good sign for your future.

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