Family - PAPILIONIDAE
Parnassius clodius, Sherman Pass,
Kernville, California, USA
© Frank Model
Parnassius, known commonly as Apollos,
comprises of 53 species. Three of these are endemic to North
America, a further 2 are found both in North America and the
Palaearctic, and the remainder are distributed variously across
Europe and temperate Asia.
are instantly recognisable as a genus, having rounded translucent
whitish wings that in most species are adorned with prominent
white-centred red ocelli. Unlike most other Papilionidae they have
short antennae with non-recurved tips.
Many Parnassius species are exceedingly
rare and have a very localised distribution, but there are a few
widespread species e.g. apollo which is
distributed from Spain to Siberia; and
eversmanni, which is found in Alaska and across much of
Parnassius clodius occurs as 9
subspecies in British Columbia, Washington, Wyoming, Montana,
Oregon, Utah, Idaho and Nevada. It has also been dubiously recorded
from Alaska, possibly due to a mislabelled museum specimen.
This species inhabits dry alpine meadows and grasslands, large
glades on open coniferous forest, often on windswept plateaux at or
above the tree line.
The egg is brown and spherical. It is laid singly in vegetation in the
vicinity of the larval foodplants. When fully grown the larva is plump
and black, with a pair of narrow broken yellow dorso-lateral lines. It
feeds diurnally on Dicentra ( Fumariaceae
), and is unpalatable to birds and reptiles. The pupa is reddish-brown
and is formed on the ground among leaf litter.
is believed to be biennial at higher altitudes, spending the first
winter as an egg, and the second winter as a half-grown larva.
Males sometimes imbibe mineralised moisture from damp ground, but in
common with the females they are more often seen in flight, or when
nectaring at flowers, of which favourites include
The butterflies have a rapid flight, soaring effortlessly across
mountainsides. Their robust and stiff wings make a distinct flapping
noise as they fly past. In warm sunny conditions they fly actively
from flower to flower, but will sometimes remain on a single
flower-head for several minutes at a time. In cooler weather they
often bask on lichen-encrusted rocks and boulders, on which they can
maintain a very strong grip, even in very windy conditions.
Females are grabbed in flight by the aggressive males which force them
to the ground, flip them on their sides, and wrestle them into a
position whereby copulation can take place. Copulation occurs at about
midday. During copulation the female develops a large chitinous
structure called a sphragis on her abdomen. This seals the genital
opening to thereby preventing her from mating again.