Home / Brush-Footed (Nymphalidae) / Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis)

Hackberry Emperor (Asterocampa celtis)

Hackberry Emperor naba.org

The Hackberry Emperor is a species of North American butterfly that are often seen hopping around water bodies, swamps, and city parks/gardens. Strangely, these butterflies are seen visiting flowers rarely, compared to most other butterfly species.

Scientific Classification

  • Family: Nymphalidae
  • Genus: Asterocampa
  • Common names: Hackberry Butterfly
  • Scientific Name: Asterocampa celtis

Description and Identification


Hackberry Emperor Larvae bugguide.net

Hackberry Emperor Caterpillar cdn.butterflyatlas.org

The larva’s body is approximately 1.4 inches in length with the head bearing brown-black horn-like dorsal projections. The entire body is a bright green having pale yellow bumps. At the rear end, a pair of sharp tail-like protrusions is found. During winter, they move on to hibernation along the floor of the forest, only to re-emerge during spring and feed on the foliage of the hackberry leaves.


Hackberry Emperor Butterfly Chrysalis lh3.ggpht.com

The chrysalis has a dark green color at the base studded with white spots all over. White lines also run diagonally across the abdomen. They stay hung on the underside of their host hackberry tree leaves during this stage and turn to adult butterflies during early summer.

Adult Butterfly

Sexual Dimorphism: Not distinctly present

Color and Appearance: Their appearance varies dramatically with latitudes. When the wings are open, they display an overall tan to reddish brown hue with the forewings having a single submarginal eyespot, along with a row of jaggy white spots, while each of the cells has a black bar and a pair of black spots. When the wings are closed, the patterns look almost similar, except that the hues are much lighter. The males of the species are smaller with darker bodies and slimmer wings.

Female Hackberry Emperor bugguide.net

Male Hackberry Emperor i.pinimg.com

Average wingspan: 1.38 – 2.48 inches (3.5 – 6.3 cm)

Flight pattern: Fast and erratic


Hackberry Emperor Eggs natureinfocus.com

White to gray in color, and are laid in clusters on the underside of hackberry leaves

Quick Facts

Distribution Entire southeastern part of North America
Habitat Wooded roadsides and streams, towns, forest glades and edges of rivers
Lifespan of adults 6 to 14 days
Host plants Leaves and leaf buds of hackberry trees
Adult diet Hackberry flower nectar, hackberry sap, feces, dead animals including decaying pigs, snakes, and dogs, and old fruit.

Did You Know?

  • While feeding the nectar from their only host, the hackberry, these butterflies often refrain from touching the flowers with their feet and antennae, but only use the proboscis. This habit suggests that these creatures are not an ineffective pollinator.
  • Hackberry butterflies are known to land on humans to lick off sweat and gain sodium from it.

Hackberry Emperor Images static1.squarespace.com

Asterocampa celtis naba.org

Hackberry Emperor naba.org

Hackberry Emperor Butterfly butterfliesandmoths.org

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Scientific Classification

  • Family: Nymphalidae
  • Genus: Asterocampa
  • Common names: Hackberry Butterfly
  • Scientific Name: Asterocampa celtis
Published by Avatar on October 8, 2018.
Last Updated: October 26, 2022. ✅ Verified by: Butterfly Team