Hackberry Emperor

Asterocampa celtis

Nymphalidae (brushfooted butterflies)


Adults: The leading edge of the wing has a dark brown bar and two dark brown spots. The dorsal (top) forewing tips are black with white spots; there is also a black eyespot on the forewing. Seen from below, the hindwing has a row of blue spots surrounded by black, yellow and brown concentric rings.

Similar species: The tawny emperor (A. clyton) doesn’t have white spots on dark forewing tips, lacks the black eyespot and has two bars at the leading edge of the forewing, not a bar and two spots.

Larvae are green with yellow-green and white stripes. The last segment is forked, and the head has two projections covered with spines.


Wingspan: 1½–2¼ inches.

Hackberry Emperor

A butterfly with light-colored wings with eye-spots on the wings.
Hackberry Emperor at Grand Gulf State Park in Thayer, MO
Habitat and conservation

City yards, parks and wooded areas. Always associated with hackberry, this butterfly rests on trees and bushes, darting out at passing butterflies, animals and people. They are fast flyers with unpredictable flight patterns.


As the common (and scientific) names suggest, hackberry trees (genus Celtis) are the host plants for the larvae of this species. The adults seldom visit flowers, but absorb nutrients from tree sap, rotting fruit and animal droppings. This is one of several butterflies that are attracted to sodium in human sweat, so they often alight on people.

image of Hackberry Emperor Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri



Triple-brooded resident.

Life cycle

Adults fly from May through September. Larvae burrow underground in order to metamorphose into adults. Females normally lay eggs singly but may also lay several. In the fall, the brown caterpillars, about half-grown, attach themselves to leaves and overwinter in leaf litter after the leaves drop. They move back into the canopy in spring.

Human connections

This delicately beautiful butterfly delights people throughout the eastern United States when it lands on our skin on hot days to absorb salts from our sweat. It only lasts for a few moments, but time magically stands still.

Ecosystem connections

The caterpillars are herbivores that graze on hackberry leaves. All stages provide food for predators. The larvae, hibernating on the ground in their rolled-up leaves, undoubtedly feed many hungry birds and mammals in the winter.