January 31, 2023

Parnassius smintheus sayii description and field notes.

Observations of a population of Parnassius smintheus sayii at mount Evans Summit trail
(12,000-14,000ft), Colorado, September 9, 2022 from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM: Oliver Blunt
Description/Background, (Field notes on pg. 3): Parnassius smintheus, known colloquially as the
“Rocky Mountain Parnassian '' is one of the 6 Nearctic Parnassius species. It is a medium-sized
butterfly with significant variation in patterning both within and across sexes. Males and females
range in horizontal length from ~2-2.5 inches and are dimorphic. Males are white with 2 narrow
submarginal hyaline borders on the forewings; each separated by a narrow line of white scales, with
two pairs of large transverse black spots located discally, and a subdiscal black spot. In most cases,
males possess 1-2 FW postdiscal red spots with black bordering, though these are often reduced to
smaller black dots. Male HWs possess thick black bordering along the dorsum; occasionally the black
bordering will curve upwards along the discal cell from the dorsum, creating a “hooked” appearance.
The black scaling also appears basally on the forewings. Males can display 2 pairs of red HW ocelli,
one located subcostally along the discal cell, the other subdiscally. While females can still appear
white, they have much larger hyaline portions of their wings, which can (in rare cases) extend fully
across the wing, leaving the female almost entirely translucent with diffused gray scaling. Females
have larger and more exaggerated red ocelli/spots and may display a third FW spot located
subdiscally; and can have up to four large red ocelli on their Hindwings, (2 located in the same
position as the males, the latter 2 along the dorsum subdiscally. Both sexes have antennae with
alternating black/white segments and have heavily sclerotized exoskeletons. Larvae are
approximately 1.5 inches long at L5 and are black, with dorsal rows of small yellow dots contrasted
against a black body. Like all papilionids, they possess defensive osmeteria, though it is undeveloped
in the genus Parnassius. (Tanaka, et al, 1983)

Above: cohort of 12 P. smintheus specimens (3 P. clodius on the top right). Collected at Mt. Evans Summit Park on 9/9/22.

Behavior/Characteristics: P. smintheus resides in alpine/subalpine meadows and tundra and is
univoltine, overwintering as eggs. In some areas, smintheus can be observed from late June until
early September. After overwintering, the larvae hatch in spring and feed on sedum lanceolatum,
sequestering the glycoside sarmentosin from the plants as a chemical defense against predation.
Because lanceolatum releases excess sarmentosin as a defense against larval feeding, larvae are
forced to wander to more nutritional plants after 1⁄2-1 hours, as high levels of sarmentosin can reduce
larval growth rates (Doyle, 2017). The need to continuously alternate host plants is a potential reason
these larvae move much faster than other Papilionid counterparts. The aposematic coloration
imparted by the sarmentosin serves a dual function in thermoregulation; the larvae absorb heat via
light by resting exposed rock during the day (Shepard, et al., 2011), a behavior that hastens their
growth across the 10-12 week larval development period.

Above: Parnassus smintheus habitat at Mt. Evans, 9/9/22.

At the end of the 5th instar in the late spring/early summer, larvae spin loose silken cocoons and
pupate. Adults eclose after 10-14 days. The immediate goal of emerging males is to copulate with
females; males are conspicuous and can be seen patrolling their territory, “hilltopping” to find females.
This species has no courtship rituals; once a female is located, a male dives towards her and
subdues her, forcing an attempt to pair. After mating, the male secretes a waxy plug over the female’s
genitalia (Sphragis) which serves to prevent other males from pairing with her (Shepard, et al., 2011).
Sphragi are found in almost all Parnassiinae, as well as other groups of Papilionidae, including the
birdwing genus Ornithoptera. Once gravid, the female will search for Sedum lanceolatum, though she
will not always oviposit on the plant, but regularly scatter ova in the close vicinity of hosts, as the
plants can be chemically detected by her antennae.

Larvae develop fully within their eggs before winter, allowing them to eclose almost
immediately after the temperature rises above 75°-80°F in the early summer. The eggs are facultative
diapausers and will emerge under warm conditions in captivity after at least 3 months inside a freezer.
Parnassius smintheus has higher than average levels of glycerol in its hemolymph, a sugar
associated with lowering the freezing point of water. In Park, et al., 2017 the related species
Parnassius bremeri was found to have hemolytic glycerol levels that were positively associated with
supercooling tolerance, indicating that the presence of glycerol in P. smintheus may be a large factor
in the species’ ability to tolerate sub-zero winter conditions. Adults and larvae also possess high
glycerol levels, the effects of which can be observed during the late-summer subzero flashes that
adults seem to tolerate.

Field notes: During the time I spent hiking along the summit trail at Mt. Evans, Clear Creek
County, CO (around 12,000-13,000ft), I observed a late-season population of Parnassius smintheus
sayii. Around 600 individuals were observed from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM; the temperature ranged from
75-31*F from the beginning to the end of the day, respectively. During that time, I observed the typical
behaviors of Parnassius smintheus. Males were patrolling areas of tundra, while females were
generally more restricted to the ground, where they crawled around ovipositing near sedum. Sp. Both
sexes were observed nectaring frequently on Fremont’s Ragwort (Senecio fremontii). Females were
better camouflaged against ground due to their wing transparency, which is less exaggerated in

The most novel behavior that I observed occurred during the end of the day around 3:30 PM;
as it had started snowing and raining at various elevations on the mountain. As the temperature
dropped to 33-31*F, the butterflies stopped patrolling and took shelter amongst the tundra brush,
which was predictable given the conditions. Notably, smintheus was observed sheltering in
higher-than-average concentrations amongst the Ragwort plants. Ragwort was among one of several
foliated flowering plants growing in the local biotope; plants including Rhodiola integrifolia, Sedum
lanceolatum, and Geum rossii, and at times a single 1^3’’ bush of fremontii could contain up to 6
lethargic smintheus. Among a group of 12 ragwort bushes distributed across the trail, 32 smintheus
were found, averaging 2.66 individuals per bush. Among other plants and rocky terrain, fewer than 5
sheltering smintheus could be found across a 1.5 hour period of cold. While I have no current means
to test using more data, I hypothesize that the concentration of smintheus in ragwort is likely due to
consumption favoritism (as individuals were observed frequenting these throughout the day),
combined with the temperature drop, causing already-feeding smintheus to shelter in their nearest
resting location in higher concentrations than could be observed in open terrain and non-flowering

Above: P. smintheus male sheltering on Senecio fremontii

Image Gallery:

Above: Rhodiola integrifolia: potential hostplant for P. smintheus at Mt. Evans.

Above: Male P. smintheus at rest.


[1] Masahiro Tanaka, Yukimasa Kobayashi, Hiroshi Ando,Embryonic development of the osmeteria of papilionid caterpillars, Parnassius glacialis butler and Papilio machaon hippocrates C. et R. felder (Lepidoptera : Papilionidae), International Journal of Insect Morphology and Embryology, Volume 12, Issues 2–3, 1983, Pages 79-85, ISSN 0020-7322, https://doi.org/10.1016/0020-7322(83)90001-6.(https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0020732283900016)

[2] Doyle, Amanda. "The roles of temperature and host plant interactions in larval development and population ecology of Parnassius smintheus Doubleday, the Rocky Mountain Apollo butterfly" (PDF). University of Alberta. Retrieved 24 October 2017.

[3] Shepard, Jon; Guppy, Crispin (2011). Butterflies of British Columbia: Including Western Alberta, Southern Yukon, the Alaska Panhandle, Washington, Northern Oregon, Northern Idaho, and Northwestern Montana. UBC Press. ISBN 9780774844376.

[4] Youngjin Park, Yonggyun Kim, Gi-Won Park, Jung-Ok Lee, Kang-Woon Lee, Supercooling capacity along with up-regulation of glycerol content in an overwintering butterfly, Parnassius bremeri, Journal of Asia-Pacific Entomology, Volume 20, Issue 3, 2017, Pages 949-954, ISSN 1226-8615, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aspen.2017.06.014(https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1226861517301528)

Posted on January 31, 2023 08:08 AM by crake crake | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 03, 2022

How to relax most lepidoptera specimens within 10 minutes

Hi, everyone.

This is a very subjective subject for me to cover as there numerous (and far more accessible) articles on the internet that describe a whole variety of successful strategies to relax insect specimens.

Usually, said articles describe some variation of the most commonly-utilized method: the infamous "Relaxing chambers"; involving some form of moist towels/sponges being placed in an airtight container for a few days, often with a heat source.

While this method is an effective way to relax very small specimens (Lycaenidae) or large, delicate, or hairy specimens (Saturniidae), it can be inconsistent. It might take days for specimens to hydrate sufficiently and they run the risk of getting moldy if not attended to. Thus for someone with limited time and a not-so-limited amount of deadstock, I recommend the following process:

1: Buy yourself some syringes with hypodermic needles. (Don't pick up the ones under highways.)

2: Acquire a papered lepidoptera specimen.

3: Heat up some water in a bowl for 3 minutes in a micowave oven and fill the syringe with water.

4: Gently pick up the specimen with your fingers and insert the syringe into it's thorax; making sure the needle remains inside, and push the plunger. The water from the syringe should "spill" out from the specimen.

5: Inject the specimen's thorax with water until it is soft and pliable (give it a squeeze to make sure). I usually give them 3 or 4 "hits" of water.

6: Using spade-tip tweezers, grasp the closed forewings of the specimen and hold it over the bowl of hot water. Carefully "dip" the antennae into the water until they become flexible. If the antennae are held at an awkward angle (parallel to the FW costal vein), you can use an insect pin to gradually coax them into the water.

7: Place the specimen's thorax on something soft (a wad of toilet paper works well), and use an insect pin to partially lacerate the connective tissues between the wings and thorax in order to further loosen the specimen. Be very careful to "stab" the wing muscles around 2-4 times until they can be pushed downwards at least 90 degrees. Excessive laceration can cripple the thorax, causing the wings to fall off or become loose when the insect is dried.

8: If the both FWs and HWs have the same (or close to the same) level of flexibility as a freshly killed specimen, the relaxing process was a success!

Posted on May 03, 2022 07:55 PM by crake crake | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 27, 2022

Saturnia walterorum rearing notes

I've taken a hiatus from posting recently due to laziness. I figured I'd get back and provide my records and insights in rearing a batch of Saturnia walterorum larvae.

Here's a quick timeline with the rearing conditions:

March 29, 2022, 6:30 PM: 15 larvae sourced from San Diego, CA, emerged. I put them in a 6x3x3 plastic tupperware container with a paper towel at the bottom. I cut most of the plastic lid out and glued on a patch of netting on top of it so that the larvae had plenty of ventilation. They were supplied with some baby leaves of arbutus unedo (strawberry tree), which they accepted the next day. They have been kept around room temperature (68-75*F) with no added humidity and their leaves are replaced daily.

L1 and L2 larvae

fast forward...

April 26, 2022: I went on vacation spring break so I didn't get to monitor them closely. It's been two weeks since I returned and nothing terribly noteworthy has occurred. 8 larvae died while being babysat; 7 larvae now remain. The larvae are now 3rd instars. The largest is exactly an inch in length while most are 2 centimeters long. They have developed noticeable red tubercles that are largest at the thorax and possess long, wispy setae that were not present in L1. They are morphologically variable; displaying black lateral abdominal bands and ranging in color from orange, red, yellow, to slightly green. They seem to do well with good ventilation and low humidity.

L3, L4? larvae

April 27, 2022: I woke up this morning and found one of the larvae was diseased. Last night they had started wandering around, which I took as a sign of stress due to their increased size and thus, perceived overcrowding but decided to put off changing their enclosure to the following day, which was obviously a stupid mistake. I executed a hasty quarantine procedure and managed to separate the remaining 6 larvae into tiny individual enclosures as I got ready this morning. I'm still apprehensive about them because these issues usually are best avoided preventatively, not remedially.

April 28, 2022: I seem to have gotten lucky. None of the 6 larvae display signs of disease and are safely confined to their individual containers. 3 larvae entered apolysis for L4 today. Temperature ranges from 68-72F.

April 29, 2022: 2 L3 larvae remain in apolysis. One ecdysed into L4, displaying brighter green coloration than the other L4 larva, which is still partially yellow. The older L4 larva was lethargic this morning, so I suspect it may be diseased. Temperature: 70-75F.

Posted on April 27, 2022 09:18 PM by crake crake | 0 comments | Leave a comment

December 01, 2021

Papilio brevicauda x Papilio zelicaon and Papilio brevicauda x brevicauda notes

5 pupae of Papilio brevicauda, sourced from Havre-Saint-Pierre, Quebec, were placed in cold storage from September 3rd, 2021, to November 27, 2021. There are 3 males and 2 females.

A single female pupa of Papilio zelicaon, sourced from Ashley lake inlet in Mono county on august 5, 2021, was placed in cold storage for the same period.

They are being exposed to indoor temperatures ranging from 65-70F.

December 3, 2021: I placed the pupae under a 45W desk lamp to increase the temperature.

December 13, 2021: The lamp bulb broke and was replaced with a 50W dark heat lamp. A small humidifier was added to the room.

December 15, 2021: A male brevicauda eclosed during the night and was placed in a net enclosure. It was manually fed a sugar-honey solution.

December 16, 2021: A female brevicauda eclosed during the night and was placed in the net enclosure with the male. Hand pairing attempts were unsuccessful; the male opened his claspers and the female extruded its genitals, but after 10 minutes of being held together there was no lasting connection.

December 17, 2021: A bright blue/white Fluval reef light was placed over the enclosure to stimulate breeding behavior.

Posted on December 01, 2021 11:12 PM by crake crake | 0 comments | Leave a comment

October 22, 2021

Attacus atlas rearing notes

A summary of my ongoing experiences while rearing Attacus atlas. They are being reared indoors on Ligustrum lucidum (tree privet) that is replenished daily and treated with a hydrogen peroxide rinse to reduce chances of infection. Since emergence, the larvae have been exposed to 9 hour photoperiods under 2 45W incandescent lamps.

OCTOBER 1, 2021: A cohort of 57 Attacus atlas eggs of undisclosed origin arrived. They were placed in a dry, airtight plastic container with a paper towel at the bottom. (The temperature ranged from 68-72*F. Humidity was near zero.)

October 7, 2021: The first group of larvae emerged in the evening. They were provided with a sprig of Ligustrum lucidum but did not begin eating immediately, as is typical with many Saturniidae larvae. Their enclosure remained airtight to maintain humidity. (Temperature: 68-72*F, humidity: 90%+.)

OCTOBER 8, 2021: The rest of the larvae had emerged by morning and had begun eating the privet. 2 additional sprigs were cleaned and added into the enclosure. Each sprigs' end was wrapped in a small, moist piece of paper towel and tin foil for hydration. (Temperature: 66-72*F, humidity: 90%+.)

L1 larvae

OCTOBER 8-13, 2021: There were no deaths during this period. I changed their food every 24 hours and replaced their paper towel and cleaned their enclosure with a rinse of H2O2 every 12 hours. Humidity was kept at 90%+ to prevent desiccation, so I was being obsessively sanitary, hence the hydrogen peroxide. (Temperature: 66-72*F.)

October 14, 2021: Several (13) L1 larvae entered apolysis. Everything else proceeded as usual. (Temperature: 66-71*F, humidity: 90%, mortality: 0.)

October 15, 2021: Most (53) of the larvae had entered apolysis and the first 2 successfully ecdysed into the second instar. Everything else continued as usual. (Temperature: 67-72*F, humidity: 90%+, mortality: 2)

L2 larvae

October 16, 2021: Only 4 additional larvae ecdysed into the second instar, the rest remained in apolysis. There was very little eating that day. (Temperature: 67-72*F, humidity: 90%+, mortality: 1)

OCTOBER 17, 2021: 1 larva ecdysed into the second instar. Seven larvae underwent a failed ecdysis. Their head capsules popped off but they were seemingly unable to slough off their skins. In some cases, the fresh prolegs of the new instar could be seen protruding from the dried skin. The larvae that failed ecdysis were dispatched, as they were completely incapacitated by their old skins. (Temperature: 68-73*F, humidity: 90%+, mortality: 7, remaining larvae: 47.)

OCTOBER 18, 2021: 5 larvae ecdysed into the second instar. 11 underwent failed ecdysis and died. The second instar larvae displayed no signs of infection and continued to behave normally. (Temperature: 66-72*F, humidity: 90+%, mortality: 10, remaining larvae: 36.)

Sorry for the huge delay with updates, I've been a bit busy lately. I'll finish this post off with a more condensed recollection and analysis.

Around October 20th I had 16 larvae left because the rest had failed ecdysis, most likely due to the cold. A few (7) molted into L3.

young L3 larva

One larva became infected and I moved the rest to a net enclosure to give them some space, but more started becoming diseased so I resigned myself to raiding target for some small 6x3x3 tupperwares. At this point there were 8 remaining larvae that I separated into individual containers, cleaning each meticulously. The larvae were all now L3.

developed L3 larva

Disease took 5 more larvae by the end of October but the quarantine had managed to mitigate the spread, so I was left with 3 healthy late L3 larvae. I changed their food ant towels daily, rinsing their containers with a diluted H202 solution.

On November 1st the first larva molted successfully into the fourth instar but it was surprisingly small; barely 1.5 inches in length. It was at this point that the larva developed the signature turquoise hue of the atlas larva, as well as extended scoli. The orange abdominal patches were no longer present.

young L4 larva

On November 2, the first L4 larva got sick and died. The two remaining larvae shed into L4 in the following days. Those two made it to pupation.

From November 9th onward, the last 2 larvae ate constantly and developed well, reaching a large size of 5 inches in length at L6. I kept a heat lamp over their enclosures in addition to the light to encourage faster development. The plastic lids had only a few air-holes so humidity was at 99% percent most of the time, though that was of little concern to me because these larvae were living in completely isolated, obsessively maintenanced habitats. The smaller larva did experience a failed ecdysis but I managed to pull the skin off before it was too late. They ate about a dozen leaves a day.

left: young L5 larva, right: developed L5 larva with prominent scoli

They developed a thin powdery wax substance on their skin common on many attacini larvae and were very strong when gripping to my hand. Their coloration developed into a softer greenish-blue and they developed small light spotting patterns. The waxy substance seemed more concentrated on the dorsal scoli of the larva rather than the skin.

L6 larvae

By December 1 both larvae entered apolysis for the final time and were placed in pupation chambers. By the 4th, they had pupated and were kept under the heat lamp.


One pupa collapsed into itself the day after it pupated and died, so I was left with only one.

I foolishly took it out of the container and placed it in a heated net-enclosure in a room with a humidifier, thinking these devices would create a sufficiently hot/humid environment until it emerged. The pupa eventually desiccated and died despite this.

Regardless of wether or not I got to witness a live adult, I did experience (amongst multiple individuals), the majority of the life cycle of this remarkable creature and am happy for having done so.

If I were to give it another attempt, I would rear them in the summer where the temperature isn't such an important variable to constant have to manage, as I believe low temperature may have been the underlying cause of many issues related to failed ecdysis (poor liquid diffusion) and stress (lowered rate of consumption), the latter leading to increased risk for disease. I would also separate them into many cohorts as soon as they hatched to mitigate infection. It would be a lot of work, but with a species as unpredictable as this I wouldn't leave anything up to chance. Hopefully this journal post helps to impart some useful and saving knowledge to anyone wishing to rear this awesome species.


Posted on October 22, 2021 12:00 AM by crake crake | 3 comments | Leave a comment

October 21, 2021

Parnassius clodius rearing notes

This is an ongoing documentation of my experience rearing a group of 37*Parnassius clodius. They were obtained as F2 stock originating from a cross between 2 clodius originating seperately from Mt. Eddy, CA and Alta, CA.

OCTOBER 21, 2021: I've kept the group of about 40 eggs at 37*F since late August under complete darkness. I plan to remove them from the refrigerator around December when their Dicentra formosa hostplants are sufficiently grown.

January 11, 2021: I don't have a very large Dicentra plant right now, so I'm going test if clodius will accept a related plant: Fumaria capreolata. A two eggs were removed from the diapause chamber and placed in an open glass container 6 inches under a desk light and a heat lamp. They were lightly sprayed with water each morning but did not emerge as early as expected, so the heat lamp was removed on January 13.

January 13, 2021: Both larvae had emerged by the evening and were supplied a small leaf of capreolata, upon which they immediately began feeding. Each measured less than a millimeter in length.

January 14, 2021: The larvae are being exposed to 12-hour photoperiods to simulate a summer light cycle and are misted every morning. Two hydrated capreolata leaves are added daily but the larvae are so small that they consume only about 10 percent of each leaf. Each larva measures around a millimeter in length.
They are very poor climbers but move very energetically; almost twice as fast as other caterpillars of their size. When disturbed, they drop from their resting positions and curl up in a defensive position. They are highly reactive to changes in lighting and temperature; becoming lethargic when heat/light are absent at night and instantly starting to move when the light switches on.

January 15, 2021: The heat lamp was accidentally unplugged this morning and there were no signs of consumption on the leaves by evening. When the heat was reintroduced the larvae immediately "turned on" and began eating again.

January 16, 2021: The larvae grew more noticeably today; each is now over 3mm in length and slightly plumper. Their head capsules are looking disproportionately small against their bodies, so I predict that they will enter apolysis for the second instar within a few days.

January 17, 2021: The larvae ate a large amount during the night; one has entered apolysis for the second instar. Both larvae measure over 4 mm.

Major update: January 19, 2022: Both larvae managed to escape their small enclosure through a hole in the netting; both proceeded to walk directly on exposed duct tape, trapping themselves. Both larvae were dead. I immediately repaired my error and have started a second batch of 2 eggs. Hopefully, I'll be able to avoid making any more ridiculous mistakes.

January 27, 2022: I'm restarting my notes on a secondary larva hatched on 1/20/22. It was allowed one week of development under the same conditions/hostplant as the previous larvae and is thus around the same developmental stage. The larva underwent ecdysis to the second instar on 1/25/22 and currently measures 8 mm. At this stage, two bilateral dorsal rows of yellow spots are becoming visible.

Update: The larva developed to the fourth instar but measured only a centimeter in length. Upon such time it entered apolysis, failed ecdysis, and died. I would not recommend attempting to rear this species on fumaria unless you desire highly stunted larvae.

Posted on October 21, 2021 11:55 PM by crake crake | 0 comments | Leave a comment


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