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Parnassius phoebus
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Family: Papilionidae
Tribe: Parnassiini
Genus: Parnassius
Type species
Papilio apollo
Linnaeus, 1758

Parnassius is a genus of northern circumpolar and montane (alpine and Himalayan) butterflies usually known as Apollos or snow Apollos. They can vary in colour and form significantly based on their altitude. They also exhibit altitudinal melananism, a high-altitude adaptation. They have dark bodies and darker coloring at the base of their wings, which allows them to absorb solar energy more quickly.

Although classified under the swallowtail butterfly family, none of the Parnassius species possesses tails.

The larvae feed on species of plants belonging to the Papaveraceae and Crassulaceae families, and like the other swallowtail butterfly larvae, possess an osmeterium.[1] Unlike most butterflies that have exposed pupae, they pupate inside a loose silken cocoon.

Identification and ecology[edit]

Species differences in female genitalia
Sphragis (mating plug) in female Parnassius apollo

Parnassius species of butterflies are often hard to identify and can sometimes only be identified by dissection of the genitalia.[2] The phylogeny of the group is still under study using molecular techniques. The exact number of species within the genus is disputed and numbers range from 38 to 47.[3]

The Parnassius butterflies also have a peculiar reproductive strategy in that the male has special accessory glands that produce a mating plug that seals the female genitalia after mating. This is believed to ensure the success of the male and to prevent other males from mating and avoids sperm competition.[4]

Butterflies of this genus have been widely used models to study metapopulations, population genetics and gene flow. Their patchy distribution and restricted migration makes them vulnerable to the effects of genetic drift and considerable colour variations can exist in individuals from different regions.[5][6]


Species include:







Doritites bosniackii







? Thaites

A proposed phylogeny of the Parnassius and related groups.[7]

Eight subgenera are recognized within the genus:

  • Driopa Korshunov, 1988 - type species: Papilio mnemosyne Linnaeus, 1758
  • Sachaia Korshunov, 1988 - type species: Parnassius tenedius Eversmann, 1851
  • Parnassius Latreille, 1804; Nouv. Dict. Hist. nat. 24 (6): 185, 199 - type species: Papilio apollo Linnaeus
  • Tadumia Moore [1902]; Lepidoptera Indica, 5 (53): 116 - type species: Papilio acco Gray
  • Kailasius Moore, [1902]; Lepidoptera Indica, 5 (53): 118 - type species: Parnassius charltonius Gray
  • Koramius Moore, [1902]; Lepidoptera Indica, 5 (53): 120 - type species: Parnassius delphius Eversmann
  • Lingamius Bryk, 1935; Das Tierreich 65: 538-540 - type species: Parnassius hardwickii Gray
  • Eukoramius Bryk, 1935; Das Tierreich 65: 630, 673-674 - type species: Parnassius imperator Oberthür

Other names that are no longer valid include:

  • Parnassis Hübner, [1819]; Verz. bekannter Schmett. (6): 90 (or misspelled or emended?) - type species: Papilio apollo Linnaeus
  • Therius Billberg, 1820; Enum. Ins. Mus. Billb.: 75 - type species: Papilio apollo Linnaeus
  • Doritis Fabricius, 1807; Magazin f. Insektenk. (Illiger) 6: 283 - type species: Papilio apollo Linnaeus

Evolutionary relationships[edit]

Parnassius mnemosyne caterpillar

A molecular phylogenetic study from 2008 suggests firstly that Baronia brevicornis Salvin 1893, rather than belonging to an outgroup Baroniinae belongs to Parnassiini, together with Hypermnestra and Parnassius. Secondly that the earliest split within the genus Parnassius is between subgenus Parnassius (the 'apollo' group, whose caterpillars feed on Crassulaceae, exceptionally Saxifragaceae) and the ancestor of the remaining seven subgenera. The existence of the subgenera is confirmed by molecular phylogenies. Six of the other subgenera have Fumariaceae as the larval food plant, while the larvae of the remaining genus Kreizbergia feed on Scrophulariaceae[8]

Important collections[edit]

  • National Museum of Natural History, Leiden, (Rijksmuseum van Natuurlijke Historie) Curt Eisner collection: Types listed in Eisner, C. Parnassiidae-Typen in der Sammlung J.C.Eisner. Leiden. E.J.Brill, 1966. 190 pp. Col.frontispiece & 84 plts.(Zool. Verh. RMNH, 81). Review of worldwide species of Parnassiidae, 719 taxa included.
  • Natural History Museum, London: Specimens largely determined by Curt Eisner types listed in Ackery, P. R. (1973): A list of the type-specimens of Parnassius (Lepidoptera: Papilionidae) in the British Museum (Natural History). Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History) Entomology 29 (1) (9.XI.1973): 1—35, 1 pl.pdf
  • Ulster Museum, Belfast, H.M Peebles collection: Type list available on CD (Nash, R and Eisner, C.)
  • Muséum national d'histoire naturelle, Paris: Types listed by Bernardi, G., and Viette, P. 1966. Les types et typoides de Parnassius (s.l.) se trouvant au Museum de Paris. Bulletin de la Société entomologique de France 71 95-103, 163-166. 9 229-233, 304-309.


  1. ^ Katoh, T.; Chichvarkhin, A.; Yagi, T. & Omoto, K. (2005). "Phylogeny and evolution of butterflies of the genus Parnassius: inferences from mitochondrial 16S and ND1 sequences". Zoological Science. 22 (3): 343-51.
  2. ^ Ackery, P. R. (1975). "A guide to the genera and species of Parnassiinae (Lepidoptera: Papilionidae)". Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History) Entomology. 31 (4)
  3. ^ Nazari, Vazrick (2006). "Parnassius Latreille, 1804". Version 7 July 2006 (under construction). Tree of Life Web Project. Shows cladogram
  4. ^ Ehrlich, A. H. & Ehrlich, P. R. (1978). "Reproductive strategies in the butterflies: I. Mating frequency, plugging, and egg number". Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society. 51: 666-697.
  5. ^ Dechaine, Eric G. & Martin, Andrew P. (2004). "Historic Cycles of Fragmentation and Expansion in Parnassius smintheus (Papilionidae) Inferred Using Mitochondrial DNA". Evolution. 58 (1): 113–127
  6. ^ Keyghobadi, N., Roland, J. & Strobeck, C. (1999). "Influence of landscape on the population genetic structure of the alpine butterfly Parnassius smintheus (Papilionidae)". Molecular Ecology. 8: 1481–1495.
  7. ^ Nazari, V.; Zakharov, E. V. & Sperling, F. A. H. (2007). "Phylogeny, historical biogeography, and taxonomic ranking of Parnassiinae (Lepidoptera, Papilionidae) based on morphology and seven genes". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 42: 131-156. Archived June 6, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Michel, F.; Rebourg, C.; Cosson, E. & Descimon, H. (2008). "Molecular phylogeny of Parnassiinae butterflies (Lepidoptera: Papilionidae) based on the sequences of four mitochondrial DNA segments". Annales de la Société Entomologique de France. (n.s.) 44 (1): 1-36.
  • Collins, N. Mark; Morris, Michael G. (1985). Threatened Swallowtail Butterflies of the World: The IUCN Red Data Book. Gland & Cambridge: IUCN. ISBN 978-2-88032-603-6 – via Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Further reading[edit]

  • Kocman, S. 2009 Parnassius of Tibet and Adjacent Areas Tshikolovets, Kiev 64 col plates, maps, figs ISBN 9789660253773
  • Glassberg, Jeffrey Butterflies through Binoculars, The West (2001)
  • Guppy, Crispin S. and Shepard, Jon H. Butterflies of British Columbia (2001)
  • James, David G. and Nunnallee, David Life Histories of Cascadia Butterflies (2011)
  • Pelham, Jonathan Catalogue of the Butterflies of the United States and Canada (2008)
  • Pyle, Robert Michael The Butterflies of Cascadia (2002)
  • Korb, S., 2020 An annotated checklist of the tribus Parnassiini sensu Korshunov of the Old World (Lepidoptera, Papilionidae) Acta Biologica Sibirica ISSN : 2412-1908

External links[edit]