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The subfamily Parnassiinae is a group of essentially Palaearctic butterflies that live in a variety of habitats, ranging from arid deserts (Hypermnestra) to humid forests (Luehdorfia), lowland meadows (Zerynthia), and high alpine habitats (Parnassius). A few species of the genus Parnassius constitute the only representatives of the subfamily in the Western Hemisphere, where they occur in the Nearctic region (Opler and Warren, 2003).
These butterflies have been studied since the time of Linnaeus (1758), who named, among others, the magnificent Parnassius apollo. Interest in the group grew in the 18th and early 19th century when more material became available from the Far East and the Himalayas (Smart, 1976). The breathtaking beauty of Bhutanitis species and the variability of the genus Parnassius quickly made them popular among butterfly collectors who bragged about rare and unusual specimens in their collections (Salmon, 2000). At some point in the nineteenth century, these butterflies gained so much popularity that many European museums deployed expeditions to the Himalayan region solely in search of rare and undiscovered species of Parnassiinae (Talbot, 1939). Of the three parties of collectors sent in search of Bhutanitis lidderdali between 1868 and 1890 by the British Museum, the first was plundered by natives, the second was stricken by fever and one of its members died, and the third had a man killed by a tiger. All three returned without success, although further specimens of this species became available a few years later in the 1890s (Talbot, 1939).
The subfamily includes eight extant genera that, based on most recent molecular studies, can be grouped in three tribes: Parnassiini (Hypermnestra, Parnassius), Zerynthiini (Sericinus, Bhutanitis, Zerynthia, Allancastria), and Luehdorfiini (Luehdorfia, Archon) (sensu Nazari et al., 2007; also see Stekolnikov and Kuznetsov, 2003; Omoto et al., 2004; Katoh et al., 2005). Parnassius has the highest number of species among the genera in the subfamily, and depending on the checklist, between 38 to 47 species are recognized, each with many subspecies and individual forms (Bryk, 1935; Collins and Morris, 1985; Weiss, 1991-2005; Häuser et al., 2005). The systematic position of two fossil taxa, Thaitites ruminiana and Doritites bosniackii, has been difficult to resolve partly due to incomplete character preservation (Hancock, 1983, Nazari et al., 2007).