The Apollo occurs in mountainous areas on steep, sunny slopes with sparse vegetation. In Europe, there are many different subspecies, forms and aberrations, because of the fragmented distribution and consequently, isolation of populations. However, their ecology is similar. The butterflies are found visiting thistles and other flowering plants. The female lays its eggs singly or in small groups on or near the foodplant Stonecrop (Sedum spp.). The eggs develop but the tiny caterpillar hibernates inside the eggshell or as newly hatched larva in its close vicinity. In spring it starts feeding on the buds of the foodplant. The caterpillars of later instars also eat the leaves. When it is time to pupate, the caterpillars look for a safe place between the stones, where they then spin a flimsy cocoon in which to change into a pupa. The Apollo has one generation a year. Habitats: alpine and subalpine grasslands (23%), dry calcareous grasslands and steppes (19%), inland cliffs and exposed rocks (11%), screes (9%), coniferous woodland (7%), broad-leaved deciduous forests (7%).
- Ashton S, Gutiérrez D, Wilson RJ (2009) Effects of temperature and elevation on habitat use by a rare mountain butterfly: implications for species responses to climate change. Ecological Entomology 34: 437-446. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2311.2008.01068.x
- Deschamps-Cottin M, Roux M, Descimon H (1997) Larval foodplant efficiency and laying preferences in Parnassius apollo L. (Lepidoptera, Papilionidae). Comptes Rendus De L'Academie Des Sciences Serie III-Sciences De La Vie-Life Sciences 320: 399-406.
- Fred MS, Brommer JE (2003) Influence of Habitat Quality and Patch Size on Occupancy and Persistence in two Populations of the Apollo Butterfly (Parnassius apollo). Journal of Insect Conservation 7: 85-98. doi: 10.1023/a:1025522603446
- Fred MS, Brommer JE (2005) The decline and current distribution of Parnassius apollo (Linnaeus) in Finland; the role of Cd. Annales Zoologici Fennici 42: 69-79.
- Fred MS, Brommer JE (2010) Olfaction and vision in host plant location by Parnassius apollo larvae: consequences for survival and dynamics. Animal Behaviour 79: 313-320. doi: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2009.11.001
- Fred MS, O’Hara RB, Brommer JE (2006) Consequences of the spatial configuration of resources for the distribution and dynamics of the endangered Parnassius apollo butterfly. Biological Conservation 130: 183-192. doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2005.12.012
- Geyer A, Dolek M (2001) Das Artenhilfsprogramm für den Apollofalter (Parnassius apollo) in Bayern. In: Schäffler B (Ed). Artenhilfsprogramme Beiträge zum Artenschutz 23. Bayerisches Landesamt für Umweltschutz, Augsburg: 301-317.
- Nakonieczny M, Kedziorski A, Michalczyk K (2007) Apollo butterfly (Parnassius apollo L.) in Europe: its history, decline and perspectives of conservation. Functional Ecosystems and Communities 1: 56-79.
- Todisco V, Gratton P, Cesaroni D, Sbordoni V (2010) Phylogeography of Parnassius apollo: hints on taxonomy and conservation of a vulnerable glacial butterfly invader. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 101: 169-183.
- Witkowski Z, Adamski P, Kosior A, Plonka P (1997) Extinction and reintroduction of Parnassius apollo in the Pieniny National Park (Polish Carpathians). Biologia 52: 199-208.
Habitat and Ecology
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Parnassius apollo
There are 12 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank. Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species. See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Parnassius apollo
Public Records: 212
Specimens with Barcodes: 253
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- Needs updating
- 1994Rare(Groombridge 1994)
- 1990Rare(IUCN 1990)
- 1988Rare(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1988)
- 1986Rare(IUCN Conservation Monitoring Centre 1986)
This species is of interest to entomologists due to the variety of subspecies, often only restricted to a specific valley in the Alps. The beautiful Apollo butterfly has long been prized by collectors, who aim to possess as many of the variants as possible. While over-collecting is believed to have caused populations to decline in some areas, such as in Spain and Italy, habitat change is thought to be a far more significant threat to this species’ survival. Plantations of conifers, the succession of suitable habitat to scrubland, agriculture, and urbanization have all reduced the habitat of the Apollo butterfly. Climate change and acid rain have also been implicated in this species decline in Fennoscandia. In addition, motor vehicles have been cited as a cause of Apollo butterfly mortalities; vehicles on a motorway system near Bozen in South Tyrol, Italy, are said to have nearly wiped out a race of the Apollo.
In Finland, the Apollo was one of the first species of insects declared endangered. The Apollo population in Finland and Sweden decreased drastically during the 1950s. The reason for this is not known, but it is commonly thought to be because of a disease. In Sweden, it is now restricted to areas that have limestone in the ground, suggesting that the decrease could hypothetically be related to acid rain.
Laws exist to protect the Apollo butterfly in many countries. The Apollo is on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals, in Appendix II in CITES . and is mentioned in annex IV of Habitats Directive. It is protected in other states: the Principality of Liechtenstein, Czech Republic (as critically threatened species in Czech code, Decree for implementation, No. 395/1992 Sb., and No. 175/2006 Sb.), Turkey and Poland.
However, these laws focus on the protection of individuals, rather than their habitat, and so may do little to mitigate the greatest threat that populations face. Fortunately, there are a number of projects specifically working to save this Vulnerable insect. A conservation programme in Pieniny National Park saved a subspecies of the Apollo butterfly that had declined to just 20 individuals in the early 1990s, through a combination of captive breeding and habitat protection. In south-west Germany, conservationists are working with shepherds to ensure favourable conditions for the butterfly, which share their grassland habitat with sheep. For example, grazing periods have been shifted to avoid the Apollo butterfly larvae stage, which is vulnerable to being trampled.
Description and ecology 
It is white with two red, black-edged "eye marks" on its wings. The Apollo butterfly (Parnassius apollo) is a beautiful white butterfly, decorated with large black "eye" spots on the forewings and red eye-spots on the hindwings. These striking red eye-spots can vary in size and form depending on the location of the Apollo butterfly, and the bright red colour often fades in the sun, causing the eye-spots of older individuals to appear more orange. The wings are shiny, with slightly transparent edges, and some individuals are darker (melanistic); a general phenomenon common in many butterflies. The caterpillars of this species are velvety black with orange-red spots along the sides. As well as being a great deal of individual variation in the appearance of the Apollo butterfly, a number of subspecies have also been described.
Adult Apollo butterflies are seen on the wing in mid-summer, feeding on nectar produced by flowers. The females lay eggs, which over-winter and hatch in spring the following year. The resulting caterpillars feed on stonecrop (Sedum species) and houseleek (Sempervivum species). When the caterpillar is fully-grown it will pupate on the ground, forming a loose cocoon from which the adult butterfly emerges following metamorphosis.
Related species can be found all over the world. The "Small Apollo" (Parnassius phoebus) is found in the high mountains while the Clouded Apollo (Parnassius mnemosyne) lives in the valleys. The Apollo caterpillar lives on larkspur and rock plants and is a velvety blue-black with small orange spots.
Distribution and habitat 
This typically mountain species prefers flowery meadows and pastures of the continental European mountains, in Spain, Scandinavia and Central Europe, in the Balkans up to northern Greece and in the Alps between Italy and France.
It is also present in some areas of the central Asia. Typical of high altitudes, its range is from 400 metres (1,300 ft) up to 2,300 metres (7,500 ft), although it is far more present above 1,000 metres (3,300 ft).
This species requires specific climatic conditions (cold winter, sunny summer). It also requires wide open spaces (with a cover of shrubs less than 5%) and a large surface of lawns (at least 50%). The presence of the host plant for the caterpillars is critical.
This article incorporates text from the ARKive fact-file "Apollo butterfly" under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License and the GFDL.
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- Parnassius gallery, including many subspecies of Parnassius apollo
- Xavier Mérit and Véronique Mérit: Les Parnassius de France, textes de Xavier Mérit-Véronique Mérit et Henri Descimon, cartes de répartition, planches, et photos en nature de Luc Manil, Xavier Mérit et Bernard Turlin, bibliographies, Bulletin des Lépidoptéristes parisiens, Volume 15 (2006), n°33 (numéro thématique), Paris, septembre 2006 (56 pages).
- Pierre Capdeville, 1978–1980, Les races géographiques de Parnassius apollo, 191 p - 26 tables - maps - 24 plates in colours, Sciences Nat, Venette.
- Jean-Claude Weiss : The Parnassiinae of the World, Pt. 4, 2005, Hillside Books, Canterbury. 
- Edwin Möhn, 2005 Schmetterlinge der Erde, Butterflies of the world Part 23 Papilionidae XII. Parnassius apollo. Edited by Erich Bauer and Thomas Frankenbach Keltern : Goecke & Evers ; Canterbury : Hillside Books. ISBN 9783937783161
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