Butterflies of temperate Asia
Rocky Mountain Apollo
Parnassius smintheus  DOUBLEDAY, 1847
subfamily - PARNASSIINAE
Tribe -
Parnassius smintheus, Red Rock Canyon, Alberta, Canada Martin Gascoigne-Pees
The genus 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.
Parnassius 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 temperate Asia.
Parnassius smintheus is found in Alaska, British Columbia, Alberta and the Rocky Mountain states of the USA. There are 8 subspecies.
This species inhabits scree slopes and windswept dry rocky plains at high elevations, often above the tree line. It breeds at sites where there are flat boulders on which the adults can bask, and crevices in which they can hide during bad weather.

The egg is white and spherical, and is laid singly on a leaf of the foodplant Sedum ( Crassulaceae ) or on a nearby blade of grass. The fully grown larva is plump and black with a pair of bright yellow dorsal spots on each segment, and a broken yellow lateral stripe. The pupa is pale yellowish brown and is formed within a flimsy silk cocoon spun among leaf litter at the base of the foodplant.

Adult behaviour

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 Sedum and Cirsium.

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 intercepted 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 takes place at about midday, and lasts for about 2 hours. During copulation the female develops a large chitinous structure called a sphragis on her abdomen. This seals the genital opening to thereby preventing other males from mating with her.



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