Two Parnassius species
There are two species of the Parnassius family breeding within Scandinavia, namely Parnassius apollo and Parnassius mnemosyne. Both these are given names by Linnaeus. Already during his stay on the island of Gotland summertime 1741, he observed at Torsburgen a large number of a big white butterfly, which according to Linnaeus' documentation during the journey, already was described - even on pictures - from the Alps by the English scientist James Petiver (1665-1718). Common name until then was simply Alp butterfly.

Here are his Latin words after the investigation of a male specimen,  July 3, 1741:

Papilio hexapus, alis erectis rotundis integerrimis albis, inferioribus ocellis quatuor superne, septem inferne.

(Transl. A six-footed butterfly, equipped with erect rounded wings completely white, hindwings have four eyespots on the upper side, seven (spots) underneath

  1. Parnassius apollo Carolus von Linnaeus 1758


Linnaeus described the apollo butterfly as not common within Sweden and very rarely recorded from abroad. The extension range of apollo is widespread from the Alps to the mountainous areas of Asia. Nowadays apollo in Europe has declined rapidly and has become even more rare or endangered in the following European countries:
Albania, Austria, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Finland, France (two ssp. are  unfortunately extinct), Germany (ssp. ancile is extinct), Greece, Italy, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine and Russia.

Present  distribution
The species Parnassius apollo is described in more than 160 different subspecies, some named quite recently. Most ssp. are concentrated in the Alps but some ssp are located in remote areas in Asia as far as  Mongolia and even China
. The Parnassius apollo is only one species of the numerous Parnassiinae family. In 1988 this butterfly family contained 39 species, all the subspecies not included. Most members of the Parnassiinae occur in Asia but three species can be found in North America, eversmanni, phoebus and clodius. In Europe apollo, phoebus, mnemosyne breed and so does the false apollo, archon apollinus. A variety of foodplants is accepted by the members of the Parnassius family. Concerning the apollo species,  larvae will feed exclusively on stonecrops such as Sedum telephium and Sedum album. Most members of the parnassians are found in rocky and mountainous areas, but there are some exceptions. For instance Parnassius mnemosyne loves humid meadows in low woodlands.

Conservation  measures
Apollo is protected by law in most countries of Europe. Why has apollo declined? The causes are probably not properly understood. There are a lot of theories on this matter such as climatic changes, acide rain, impact of modern agriculture, overcollecting by entomological enthusiasts etc. Whatever the causes are, the effects are dramatic - the apollo has disappeared from several parts of its earlier breeding areas.

Parnassius apollo breeding
It is quite easy to breed the apollo. In fact, there are many reasons to breed rare butterflies. Specimens could be set out in the wild to restore destroyed populations, the limited wild populations might be protected from itchy collectors if there were bred specimens available for collections
. Much knowledge and fascination could be achieved by observing the life cycle of  this beautiful and most striking insect.

In the opus Systema Naturae of 1758 Linnaeus has officially named the butterfly Parnassius apollo.

Distribution map of  P apollo and its ssp. in Sweden, Norway and parts of Finland

Estimated distribution of P. apollo in the beginning of the 20th century
Present maximum distribution of nominate apollo Linnaeus 1758
Present maximum  distribution of ssp. fennoscandicus Bryk 1911
Present  maximum distribution of ssp.norwegicus Menthe 1912
Present maximum distribution of ssp. linnei Bryk 1913
Present maximum distribution of ssp. jotunensis Opheim 1945


Different ssp of P apollo are listed on this page

Photographs of P apollo is shown here

      2. Parnassius mnemosyne Linnaeus 1758 

Syst. Nat. 1:465 Ed. 10

    Nominate mnemosyne is originally described from Finland, where also ssp perkele Bryk, 1921, is breeding. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania keep several populations and subspecies. In Norway occurs ssp atlantica Opheim, 1949. Sweden keeps three ssp: ssp argiope Fruhstorfer, 1917, ssp romani Bryk, 1922 and ssp nordströmi, Bryk 1940. These breeding locations are situated far from each other and have no connections. Mnemosyne eggs hibernate and hatch usually in April when the temperature for a day or two exceeds plus ten Centigrades. Mnemosyne larvae accept several Corydalis ssp. The adults are normally on wing from June to middle of July. At least in Sweden mnemosyne has declined rapidly and disappeared from its earlier extension areas in mostly coastal places. The argiope population is extremely small and at a risk of extinction. Ssp bang-haasi , Bryk 1912, in Denmark is unfortunately already extinct. Several measures have been taken to save this rare butterfly in Scandinavia. When a population diminuishes, probably the most severe thing is weakening of the genes. To breed this particular species requires much care and experience. The larvae accept several kinds of Corydalis, mostly they eat the leaves day and night and grow very fast. When the larva is going to pupate, the foodplant often already has withered. If you want to know more about mnemosyne, please, go to this page.


Copyright © 1998 Göran Waldeck   All rights reserved