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Butterfly Wing Scale Digital Image Gallery

Small Apollo Butterfly

The small apollo butterfly, described by entomologists as Parnassius phoebus, is a high ranging insect that frequents small brooks and riparian corridors in the mountains of western North America, Asia, and Europe. Due to environmental constraints, the small apollo butterfly must complete an entire generation in a very short period of time, generally from late June to late August. Highly fecund, adult females may lay as many as 1,000 eggs, but few of them will make it to maturity and successfully reproduce.

Small apollo butterflies demonstrate various means of defense to increase their chances of survival. Although the species lacks the visually distracting hind wing extensions characteristic of its family, Papilionidae, the undersides of their hind wings feature pairs of false red eyespots. When threatened, the butterflies spread their wings wide to display the eyespots, make convulsive movements with their wings, and create a scratching sound by rubbing their hind legs against the undersides of the wings in hopes of deterring predation. If a predator attacks despite the defensive behavior, it may regret the decision. The body fluids of the butterfly species irritate the skin of humans and render them unpalatable to birds and other predators.

An interesting behavioral characteristic of small apollo butterflies prevents sperm competition among potential male mates. The male butterflies emerge about nine days earlier than the females and actively patrol an area in search of a mate. Soon after the females emerge, often even before they are able to fly, mating occurs. Afterwards, the male leaves a sphragis, or small white pouch, at the tip of the female's abdomen. The waxy secretion contains sperm and important nutrients, which increase the chances of successful fertilization. The sphragis also acts as a wax seal that prevents the fertilized female from mating again.

Habitat destruction associated with skiing resorts, road building, and residential developments has taken its toll on this stunning alpine butterfly species. Once damaged or destroyed, the crucial food plants of the small apollo butterfly larvae are slow to recover. In Germany's Alps, the small apollo butterfly species is listed as endangered and is protected from collection. However, subspecies from other regions are captured and reared for commercial sale to butterfly enthusiasts. Morphic and geographic variation, a brief adult lifespan, and the difficulty of capturing the adults in their mountainous terrain, make small apollo butterflies quite valuable.

Contributing Authors

Cynthia D. Kelly, Shannon H. Neaves, Laurence D. Zuckerman, and Michael W. Davidson - National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, 1800 East Paul Dirac Dr., The Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, 32310.



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