Exploring the peaks and valleys: insights from the 2023 Apollo breeding season

Butterfly breeding farms typically aim to contribute to the conservation of endangered species, such as the Apollo butterfly. These farms often involve the careful cultivation of host plants, creating suitable habitats for the butterflies and implementing controlled breeding programs.

Four breeding farms are currently in operation as part of the LIFE Apollo2020 project. Two of them: in Poland (Jagniątków, Sudetes) and in Austria (Saalfelden, Alps) were already operational before the project started. The other two have been established as part of the project’s activities: the farm in Poland (Uniemyśl, Sudetes), and in Czechia (Barchov, Sudetes). As part of the project, it is also planned to run a second breeding farm in Czechia in the White Carpathians.

Breeding success in butterfly farms can be influenced by various factors, including environmental conditions. Cold weather in spring can pose a challenge to the breeding process, as it may affect the development of butterfly eggs, larvae, and pupae. Butterflies are ectothermic, meaning their body temperature is regulated by external conditions. Extreme cold can slow down their metabolic processes and developmental stages, leading to reduced breeding success. On the other hand, excessively high temperatures in the breeding season can lead to increased mortality.

In the new breeding tents, the location had to be tested and solutions relating to sunlight and thermals had to be adapted. However, even in breeding farms that have been in operation for many years, there are still situations that can come as a surprise. The climate is changing, and even in cooler mountainous regions, extremely high temperatures can occur. This past spring, however, surprised us in a different way in the Sudetes. It was rainy, cool, and there were few sunny days.

In some farms, we encountered unexpected problems related to egg and caterpillar mortality, as well as the transitional phase occurring between developmental stages and the mating process of butterflies. Certain issues were attributed to the weather conditions, particularly the excessively rainy and overcast conditions during spring and early summer. This was particularly evident in the breeding site of Uniemyśl in the Sudetes, where the phenology at all stages of the insects’ lives was delayed compared to other breeding farms.

Some of these problems, however, make us reflect on our breeding methods and will force us to make some modifications and adjustments to the breeders themselves as well as the breeding tents. Failures are a natural part of any process. They prompt us to make improvements and to create variants to deal with negative changes in external conditions. To mitigate the impact of weather, butterfly farms may implement measures such as providing sheltered environments, temperature control, and adjusting breeding schedules based on weather forecasts. Additionally, ongoing research and collaboration with experts in entomology and environmental science can contribute to better understanding and addressing the challenges faced by butterfly breeding programs.

To enhance our understanding of the breeding process and the breeding materials used, population genetic studies are conducted on the deceased specimens collected from breeding activities in Poland. Furthermore, investigations are carried out to assess the presence of diseases and parasites. Both low genetic diversity and disease factors can be the cause of a decline in breeding performance, and we need to clarify and find solutions to these issues as well. The presence of several breeders in different parts of Europe allows us to collect a lot of data on what can go wrong while securing breeding material and the possibility of exchange between breeders.

Thanks to our collaboration with breeders, last year we successfully released a total of 1240 individuals at reintroduction sites across 11 different locations in the Polish and Czech regions of the Sudetes and the Austrian Alps.

Author: Anna Bator-Kocoł

Educational activities for the Apollo butterfly in Poland in 2023

Education is one of the key tasks of the LIFE Apollo2020 project. The population of the Apollo butterfly Parnassius apollo has drastically declined over the past few decades, and the butterfly has become completely extinct in the Sudetes. Such a drastic collapse in the species’ population was the result of progressive changes in its habitat caused by alterations in the management of open areas. The restoration of the Apollo butterfly’s habitat and population is strictly dependent on a change in the attitude of the owners and managers of the areas where it once occurred. That is why it is essential to promote knowledge of this butterfly and its habitat requirements.

The Apollo butterfly is monophagous in its larval stage. This means that the caterpillars feed on only one group of plants – Crassulaceae, especially Sedum maximum. It grows mainly on rocky outcrops and xerothermic grasslands, often protected under the Natura 2000 network. These habitats are now rare in Sudetes due to the abandonment of traditional livestock grazing. Their protection and restoration require active conservation. Failure to do so means the disappearance of feeding sites for Apollo, leading to the extinction of the species in the area.

Another major reason for the extinction of the Apollo butterfly is collectors. Their large size and individually varied coloration make them unique butterflies. A distinctive feature – the lack of scales on their wings, making them virtually transparent in some parts – also makes them desirable to collectors. Their appearance becomes their curse.

Educating the public is crucial so that people realize the importance of nature and the need to preserve its integrity. Not only is the Apollo butterfly a beautiful part of our environment, but it is also a valuable component of the ecosystem. Like every species, it has a role to play in maintaining genetic diversity and aiding in the adaptation to changing climatic conditions. Their role in the pollination process contributes to the preservation of biodiversity, providing tangible benefits to humans in the form of increased yield and diversity of our food. Therefore, protecting Apollo and preserving its habitat is not only a duty to nature but also a matter of our own self-interest.

To achieve this, as part of the LIFE Apollo2020 project, the Klub Przyrodników (Naturalists’ Club) conducts educational activities aimed at people of all ages. During the spring-summer season, which is the time of Apollo butterfly activity, we organized a number of events and workshops of an educational nature, promoting the natural and cultural values of the region, and creating the so-called Land of Apollo.

Spring Snow Festival

Together with the caterpillars hatching from their eggs, we welcomed spring at the Sudetic Field Station in Uniemyśl. As part of the annual Spring Snow Festival, the First Flowers event was held to introduce participants to the first spring plants and insects. Participants took part in a field trip, a presentation on the breeding farm of Apollo, handicraft workshops, and cooking with wild plants.

Photos: Krzysztof Kalemba, Kamila Grzesiak

Happening for the Apollo

In May, at the Nature and Education Center of the Karkonosze National Park – Sobieszów Palace, we prepared an educational event for the opening of a citizen science campaign called Happening for the Apollo. Participants had the opportunity to sow a meadow for butterflies and bumblebees, make seed cards, and paint decorative stones. At the end, we flew with the Apollo and the KPN guide, all the way to the top of Chojnik Mountain, which is one of the reintroduction sites for this species. A very important part of the event was the presentation of our #WhereIsBigWhiteButterfly? campaign, which encourages anyone who has seen a large white butterfly to send us its photo and location at niepylak@kpnmab.pl. Our action has been met with interest, and we have already received the first sightings of the species. We hope to get even more submissions in the 2024 season!

Photos: Anna Bator-Kocoł

Open Days of Half-Timbered Houses

On the occasion of the Open Days of Half-Timbered Houses, we organized a fair of handicrafts, antiques, and regional products at our Sudetic Field Station in Uniemyśl. The event was combined with educational activities about the Apollo butterfly and meadow ecosystems: art workshops, an educational tour, and a presentation of the butterfly breeding farm.

Open Day at the Living Gene Bank

In July, an Open Day was held at the Living Gene Bank in Jagniątków, part of the Karkonosze National Park. One of the three Polish breeding farms of Parnassius apollo is located there. Guests had the opportunity to see Apollo butterflies at close range, those willing could even hold them on their hands. They learned about the biology and ecology of the Apollo, how the butterflies are bred, and why we do it.

Photos: Thomas Fleck, Aleksandra Puchtel

Chojnik Castle

Another event took place at Chojnik Castle when most of the females of Apollo had already laid eggs. It was an opportunity to witness a unique spectacle, the release of butterflies from the breeding farm in Jagniątkow, into the wild. These insects are intended to rebuild and strengthen the population in their natural habitat. We try to carry out activities until it reaches a level where it can self-sustain.

Photos: Piotr Słowiński

Day of the Apollo/Night of Horseshoe Bat

On the final weekend of August, another educational event took place – International Bat Night – the Day of the Apollo/Night of Horseshoe Bat in Uniemyśl. Participants said goodbye to the vacations in the company of day and night aviators, taking turns patrolling the mountain skies, and participated in workshops that gave them a lot of fun, but also a lot of knowledge about the Apollo butterfly and bats. It was also an opportunity to cooperate with another LIFE Project – LIFE Podkowiec Towers, run by the Polish Society of Wildlife Friends “pro Natura”.

Photos: Anna Bator-Kocoł

Climatic Karkonosze Festival

The last meeting with the Apollo butterfly was at the Climatic Karkonosze Festival at the Nature and at the Nature and Education Center of the Karkonosze National Park – Sobieszów Palace. During this picnic, visitors learned about the nature and cultural heritage of the Karkonosze Mountains. Due to the enormous anthropogenic pressure on Karkonosze nature, visitors were encouraged to hike along less frequented routes, where one can focus on the surrounding nature, consciously get to know the region, and relieve the most popular trails. In our tent, guests could hear about the LIFE Apollo2020 project, learn why the Apollo is such a special butterfly, why it is worth protecting, and sign up to volunteer for the next season.

Photos: Justyna Wierzchucka-Sajór

Conversations with the region’s residents and tourists show that our information campaigns and educational events are reaching more and more people. Knowledge of the project and understanding of the importance of protecting the Apollo butterfly and its habitat are spreading! We are pleased that this year we were able to count on the support of people who encountered the Apollo on their way and sent us this information. By raising awareness and sensitizing the public, we can work even more effectively to restore the population of these insects in the Sudety Mountains.

Authors: Anna Bator-Kocoł, Aleksandra Puchtel

Training on the Apollo butterfly monitoring in Pieniny Mountains

As a part of the field monitoring training from July 19th to 20th, representatives from the Naturalist’s Club, Karkonosze National Park, and the Władysław Szafer Institute of Botany of the Polish Academy of Sciences visited the habitats of the local population of Apollo butterflies . It was possible thanks to the hospitality of Pieniny National Park.

Under the guidance of specialist Prof. Paweł Adamski form Polish Academy of Sciences, we learned how to properly conduct species monitoring in the field, how to spot and mark Apollo butterflies, and how to accurately record monitoring data.

Together with Prof. Adamski, we visited three key monitoring sites for the Apollo butterfly. This allowed us to observe and experience working in challenging habitats associated with steep mountain slopes.

During the training, we gained valuable insights into the habitats of the Pieniny population. We further enriched this knowledge during visits to two different habitats while being guided by representatives of Pieniny National Park.

As part of Pieniny National Park’s warm hospitality, we learned about the history of Czorsztyn Castle and the basics of oscypek production (a traditional Polish scalded-smoked cheese with a protected-designation-of-origin status) in traditional shepherd’s hut. Conversations and exchange of experiences related to Apollo butterfly breeding were also an integral part of the visit.

Mr. Tadeusz Oleś, the long-term guardian of the butterfly population and breeding success, shared insights about the population and breeding achievements. Experience exchange always brings surprises and fosters the search for common solutions to ensure the species’ safety and continuity.

The training itself, in such picturesque natural surroundings resultd in a lasting significance for collaboration and brought numerous benefits to breeders. It equipped them with a more confident approach to this year’s and future years’ monitoring efforts.


We would like to thank the Pieniny National Park for hosting us with warmth and the commitment of your employees. This allowed us, the LIFE Apollo2020 team, to be guests of the magnificent Pieniny National Park.

Our heartfelt thanks go to the Park’s Director, Mr. Michał Sokołowski, and Ms. Iwona Wróbel for their kindness and for making it possible to orgainze the visit. We deeply appreciate Mr. Bogusław Kozik, Mr. Jacek Berezicki, Mr. Paweł Adamski, Ms. Małgorzata Braun-Suchojad, Mr. Stanisław Złydaszyk, and Mr. Mateusz Dziurny for discussions on Apollo butterfly protection, reintroduction, and monitoring details. Special thanks to Mr. Tadeusz Oleś for guiding us through the breeding facility.