Parnassius smintheus
Rocky Mountain Parnassian

Family Description:
Alternate Common Names:Small Apollo, Phoebus Parnassian.
Note: This species is listed as a subspecies of P. phoebus, a species found in Alaska and northwestern Canada, by some authors.
Caterpillar: The caterpillar is black, covered with short black hair, and is marked with one or two rows of yellow or orange spots on each side. It is small, reaching a maximum length of one inch.
Adult: The butterfly is fairly large, with a wingspan of 2 to 3 inches, and has black-and-white ringed antennae. The male is white to offwhite on the upperside. The forewing is marked with grayish shading at the tip and outer edge. There are several irregularly-shaped spots; usually three are black and two to three are reddish, pinkish, yellow, or brown. The hindwing is mostly white and has one or two reddish spots or rings. The female is grayish to white, and may appear transparent; the markings are similar to the male’s, but the gray shading may be more extensive. Females, if they have mated, have a white pouch (called a sphragis) at the tip of the abdomen. Placed there by the male, it contains the sperm and important nutrients and prevents the female from mating again.

This species ranges from Alaska south and east to central New Mexico; it also extends into California in the Sierra Nevadas. It occurs through much of Idaho.

It can be found in tundra, mountain meadows, grasslands, and sagebrush steppe.


Caterpillar: Caterpillars feed on the leaves and sometimes flowers and fruits of stonecrop (Sedum spp.).
Adult: Butterflies drink flower nectar, especially from host plant flowers and yellow flowers belonging to the sunflower family (Asteraceae).

There is one generation of caterpillars each summer, hatching from eggs that were laid the previous year and overwintered. At high elevations, the caterpillars may overwinter as well, thus requiring two years to fully develop. Caterpillars can crawl into tiny spaces, like those found in soil. Pupation occurs within a silk cocoon located in ground debris. Adults generally fly from late May through August. Butterflies have two tiny hooks on the surface of the forewing which provide assistance when emerging from where they were pupating. Only three species of Parnassians occur in North America, two of which occur in Idaho.

Males actively patrol in search of receptive females. After mating, the male attaches a waxy secretion (the sphragis) to the tip of the female’s abdomen, to prevent her from mating again. Females lay eggs randomly on soil, debris, and plants of many species.

Idaho Status: Unprotected nongame species.
Global Rank:

G5; populations are widespread, abundant, and secure.

Ferris, C. D. and F. M. Brown. (eds.) 1981. Butterflies of the Rocky Mountain States. Univ. of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Oklahoma, USA, 442 pp.

Opler, P. A., H. Pavulaan, and R. E. Stanford. 1995. Butterflies of North America. Jamestown, North Dakota, USA: Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center Home Page. (Version 05Nov98).

Opler, P. A. and A. B.Wright. 1999. A Field Guide to the Western Butterflies. Second Edition. Peterson Field Guide Series. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, New York, USA, 540 pp.

Pyle, R. M. 1981. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, New York, USA, 924 pp.

Scott, J. A. 1986. The Butterflies of North America. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, USA, 583 pp.

Stanford, R. E. and P. A. Opler. 1993. Atlas of Western U.S.A. Butterflies (Including Adjacent Parts of Canada and Mexico). Published by authors, Denver, Colorado, USA, 275 pp.