Last week Leonard and I saw many clodius parnassian (Parnassius clodius) butterflies at Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. These specimens were observed along the Castle Crest and Garfield Peak Trails.
The wing patterns of clodius parnassians are quite variable. Nine subspecies of this butterfly are accepted. Often considered a “high altitude” butterfly, clodius parnassians are found above treeline, but also fly and reproduce in coastal rainforests, riperian forests and subalpine meadows throughout western North America.
Clodius parnassian wings have a white, almost translucent, background. The upper surface of the forewing has a dark black border and three dark grey to black bars and no red spots. The hind wing upper surface has two red spots and light black markings. Females also usually have a red anal bar. The undersides of the wings mimic the upper surface. Clodius parnassians have solid black antennae. Females are generally less hairy than males.
After mating, the male attaches a white, keeled pouch (sphragis) to the end of the female’s abdomen to prevent multiple matings. The sphragis is a vaginal plug that blocks copulation but does not interfere with egg laying. The female lays single, brownish, spherical eggs, which are scattered over the host plant. Clodius parnassian larvae feed on members of the Bleeding Heart Family, especially Dicentra. The larvae (plump and black with lines of yellow subdorsal spots) feed at night near the base of the host plant, resting during the day amid the ground litter. After 18 or 19 days the larva pupates in a loose, brownish, silk cocoon above the ground. The adults that metamorphose from the cocoon feed on flower nectar.
Clodius parnassian butterflies overwinter in the egg stage when the egg contains an almost fully-developed larva. Once warmer spring weather arrives, the eggs hatch in 1 to 4 days. There is some evidence that clodius parnassians at the highest elevations of their range may have a biannual life cycle with the butterfly overwintering the first winter as an egg and the second winter as a half-grown larva with the adult emerging the second summer.
Once I began to organize the photographs of these clodius parnassian specimens, it was exciting to realize I had captured a sphragis.