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Things of Middle-earth

Black Butterflies of Mirkwood

Type: Animals

Other Names:
purple emperors


A type of butterfly native to the forest of Mirkwood, spotted by Bilbo during the Quest of Erebor:
Purple Emperor butterfly (Apatura iris).
The Purple Emperor butterfly, Apatura iris: Tolkien said the black butterflies that Bilbo saw in Mirkwood were an unspotted variety of these.
Two days later... they were in a valley filled almost entirely with a mighty growth of oaks.

"Is there no end to this accursed forest?" said Thorin. "Somebody must climb a tree and see if he can get his head above the roof and have a look round...."

Of course "somebody" meant Bilbo....

In the end he poked his head above the roof of leaves and then he found spiders all right. But they were only small ones of ordinary size, and they were after the butterflies.... [He] saw all round him a sea of dark green, ruffled here and there by the breeze; and there were everywhere hundreds of butterflies. I expect they were a kind of 'purple emperor',1 a butterfly that loves the tops of oak-woods, but these were not purple at all, they were a dark dark velvety black without any markings to be seen.

The Hobbit, Ch 8, Flies and Spiders

1The Purple Emperor (Apatura iris) is one of the largest and most elusive species of butterfly in England. They dwell in the canopy of leaves at the top of oak trees in woodlands, where they live off a sugary solution secreted by aphids. Today they are very scarce and found only in central southern England.

The Annotated Hobbit, Annotated by Douglas A. Anderson, Ch 8, Flies and Spiders, Note 6

Elena Tiriel 25May04, 29May04, 31Aug07, 9Mar10

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