Learn about butterflies day: how the evolution of Lepidoptera contributed to a world full of colors

Today is the Learn about butterflies day! Let us dive a little bit into the evolutionary history of butterflies, and we can readily establish that indeed these insects should be celebrated! One of many reasons why, is the fact that without them, the world would not have been as brightly colored as it is now.

The order Lepidoptera

Lepidoptera, the order of insects which includes butterflies and moths, is one of the largest and most widespread insect orders in the world, with about 160,000 described species. In the last decades, research to Lepidoptera evolution has become more and more advanced (https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev-ento-031616-035125). The first research started in the 1970s with morphological studies, i.e., research into the shape and form of Lepidoptera species to classify them in different classes. Later, research advanced to the use of molecular techniques to acquire elaborate data on DNA sequences. This enabled researchers to classify about 46 superfamilies within the Lepidoptera group.

The oldest Lepidopteran fossil is from an organism living in the early Jurassic (193 million years ago). Unfortunately, the Lepidopteran fossil record is limited due to the high fragility of the scale-covered wings and bodies. Still, data suggests that the Lepidoptera order played a huge role in the large-scale radiation and diversification of angiosperms (flowering plants). Angiosperms are now the most diverse and largest group within the plant kingdom, with about 300.000 species, representing 80% of all known green plants. They are the plants that produce flowers and seeds.


But how can butterflies influence the formation of so many different species of flowering plants? This happened because of the process of coevolution. Coevolution is the evolutionary change of multiple populations or species as a result of the interactions between those populations or species. Butterflies feed on nectar, which could be produced by the angiosperms. Angiosperms are insect-pollinated plants, meaning that the transport of reproductive material relies on insect traffic going from one plant to another. So, both species groups depend on each other to survive and reproduce. This led to the opportunity for even more specific plant-pollinator  interactions. 

A pollinator can be generalized, i.e., it can feed on multiple species of nectariferous plants, or it can be specialized, i.e., it has specific features that are compatible with only one nectariferous species. The same applies for the plants, they can be pollinated by several species or they can be specialized and adapt in such a way that only one pollinator species can pollinate. Being a specializer, both as a pollinator and as a plant, comes with certain advantages. For the plant, pollination can become more efficient and less pollen is wasted. For the pollinator, a ‘private’ food source means less competition with other species. This ‘selective advantage’ to become specializers led to the great diversification of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) and angiosperms (flowering plants). 

Coevolution: P. apollo and its host plants

What does this mean for the Apollo butterfly and its host plants? The Apollo butterfly lives on open, rocky slopes and alpine meadows in the mountains. It is specialized to feed on the plants that occur in these habitats and the plants depend on the Apollo for pollination and thereby their reproduction. This shows the delicate interactive balance between flora and fauna in these ecosystems, and the necessity to preserve all the important actors.

So let’s celebrate today as The learn about butterflies day and take some time to appreciate their role in the evolution of flowers!

To extra celebrate the Apollo butterfly, you can now test your knowledge in a quiz! Browse our website for information if you do not know the answer and try to get as many points as possible. 

Who do you think came first, the butterfly or the flowering plant?

Summary of Apollo EduActivities in Austria 2023

The LIFEApollo2020 project includes educational activities aiming at raising awareness about the need of preserving the Parnassius apollo butterfly. This species serves as an umbrella species, meaning its well-being reflects the overall health of its habitat. By focusing on the conservation of this flagship species, the project indirectly addresses the conservation needs of the entire ecosystem it inhabits. Moreover, the project emphasizes inclusivity by actively involving the broader community in environmental conservation efforts and promoting social responsibility. Through workshops and hands-on activities, participants are engaged in learning about the life cycle and ecological significance of the Apollo butterfly.

As part of the LIFEApollo 2020 project, our Austrian partner, the European Wilderness Society, in collaboration with butterfly expert Otto Feldner, conducted  numerous engaging workshops in various Austrian schools, from kinder-gardens to high schools. These workshops were designed to capture the attention and curiosity of students and to create an interactive learning environment. 

Throughout these sessions, students were introduced to the captivating world of Apollo butterflies, delving into every stage of their life cycle, from eggs to fully developed adults. Vital topics such as habitat requirements, overwintering behaviors, and the significance of specific feeding plants essential for Apollo butterflies were covered in detail. Notably, these workshops ignited a sense of enthusiasm among students, who eagerly shared their knowledge about butterflies. This enthusiastic response underscores the importance of fostering a connection between young minds and the natural world.

The LIFEApollo2020 project also aims to build Apollo gardens, unique spaces dedicated to cultivating food plants essential for the caterpillars and butterflies of the Apollo species. In Austria, two such gardens were established, one involving secondary school students and the other engaging children from a kindergarten. These gardens not only served as educational tools but also as practical conservation measures. Students eagerly participated in their production, and during construction, the significance of plants that attract butterflies—especially the vital Sedum for the Apollo caterpillar—was highlighted. The success of the Apollo Gardens was evident through the satisfaction expressed by smiling students and teachers involved in the activity.

In Autumn, European Wilderness Society took an advantage of the chance to reach a wider audience by participating in the “Fest der Natur” event in Wels, Austria. EWS was one of more than thirty exhibitors that presented presented nature conservation initiatives. The engaging event featured interactive games and content designed to educate both younger and older about the importance and protection of the Parnassius apollo butterfly. By providing a platform for participants to actively learn and engage in nature conservation, the event highlighted the broader significance of protecting local nature and biodiversity. The positive response and varied program ensured that the project’s message resonated effectively.

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

October 2023 was a month of conferences!

In October, LIFE Apollo2020 was presented at two significant conferences!

The congress took place in Heraklion, Crete, from the 16th to the 20th of October. This international event was an important meeting for more than 1000 entomologists and enthusiasts from the European Union, as well as representatives from overseas (UK, USA, Australia). The diversity of attendees transformed ECE 2023 into a global gathering, enabling a rich exchange of ideas and experiences.

The congress offered a truly comprehensive program, involving thematic sessions such as invasion biology and climate change, ecology and behavior, biodiversity and conservation, and much more. Workshops, poster presentations, excursions and hundreds of lectures provided the participants with the unique opportunity to learn about the latest research and developments in the field.

Our team member Tomáš E. Vondřejc held a scientific poster presentation on “Conservation of Parnassius apollo in Poland, Czech Republic and Austria under the theme of “Biodiversity and Conservation“. The project LIFE Apollo2020 made a great impression, capturing the attention of dozens of individuals with a keen interest in the conservation of P. apollo butterflies. Particularly captivating were the specifics of Apollos’ breeding farms and their operation. The innovative approach of using dogs for butterfly identification sparked broad interest as well, opening possibilities for the application of this measure in various conservation projects.

Throughout the congress, Tomáš had the opportunity to engage in conversations with numerous experts in the field, notably those involved in other LIFE projects with similar focuses, such as SouthLIFE and LIFE for Pollinators. The Project LIFEApollo2020 also caught an attention of the CINEA representatives from the European Commission, leading to a detailed discussion about the project. The outcome was successful, with LIFE Apollo2020 being pointed out as an exemplary case of good practice in their presentation, positioning it as one of the most outstanding species-focused projects for implementation.

The Apollo Project team is very grateful to be a part of ECE2023 and looks forward to future opportunities.

The LIFEApollo2020 team from Poland and Czechia participated from 19th to 20th October in the scientific conference ‘Apollo butterfly – research, protection, and monitoring’ in Červený Kláštor, Slovakia. Thanks to the event organized by Pieninský národný park (PIENAP) and Pieniński Park Narodowy (PPN), we had the opportunity to present our project to a broader international community of scientists and practitioners.

Our team delivered three presentations in total. Tomasz Suchan from Instytut Botaniki im. W. Szafera Polskiej Akademii Nauk w Krakowie discussed ‘Genetic research of the Apollo butterfly as part of the LIFE Apollo2020 project’, David Číp, representing Skupina JARO shared insights on ‘Experience in the protection and breeding of the Apollo butterfly within the JARO Group‘, and lastly, Dariusz Kuś from Karkonoski Park Narodowy addressed ‘Active protection of the Apollo butterfly in Karkonoski National Park – the LIFE Apollo2020 project’.

The conference offered an excellent platform for engaging in discussions, exchanging experiences, and gaining knowledge about conservation initiatives in various regions of Europe and the world. Our collaboration with PIENAP and PPN holds significant importance, as we share common objectives, enabling us to mutually enhance our projects and effectively protect Parnassius apollo and its natural habitats.

We would like to express our deep gratitude to the management, Mr. Vladimír Klc, the director of PIENAP, Mr. Michał Sokołowski, the director of PPN, and Ms. Iwona Wróbel, deputy director, as well as the teams of both National Parks for their invitation and the organization of this event. We also appreciate the dedicated moderators, Mr. Paweł Adamski and Mr. Ludomir Panigaj, for facilitating productive communication among participants.

LIFE Apollo2020 is present at the XII European Congress of Entomology 2023!

The XII European Congress of Entomology 2023 (ECE 2023) is set to take place in Heraklion, Crete, from the 16th to the 20th of October. This international event is a significant gathering for entomologists and enthusiasts, offering a space for discussing critical entomological research and conservation efforts. 

You might wonder what entomology is? It is the scientific study of insects, a field of biology that explores a fascinating and diverse world of these little creatures. Insects, representing a vast majority of known species on Earth, play a crucial role in ecosystems, agriculture, and human life. From pollinating crops to recycling organic matter, insects have a big impact on the world we inhabit.

Among the participants of the Congress is our team member Tomáš Ernest Vondřejc, a dedicated zoologist from the Education and Information Centre White Carpathians, representing the LIFE Apollo2020 project. He is going to hold a scientific poster presentation on “Conservation of Parnassius apollo in Poland, Czech Republic and Austria (Project LIFE APOLLO2020)” under the theme of “Biodiversity and Conservation“.

Date: Thursday, 19th October 2023 (Poster Session IV)
Location: Cultural Conference Center of Heraklion, Crete, Greece (Poster Area is on Level 1)
You will find the Detailed program of the congress here.

Tomáš Ernest Vondřejc is part of the LIFE Apollo2020 project team, and his work is important in ensuring the successful preservation of Parnassius apollo butterflies and their habitats. His responsibilities range from conducting in-depth research to organizing field trips and implementing practical conservation strategies.

The LIFE Apollo2020 project is looking forward to be represented at the ECE 2023, where it will have the opportunity to network with other enthusiastic entomology professionals and exchange knowledge with them.

For more information, please visit the official website of ECE 2023.

LIFE Apollo2020 goes BoB! 

What is BoB?

LIFE Apollo2020 will be presented at the Biology of Butterflies conference 2023 that takes place from 10th to 13th of July in Prague. The conference, organised every four years, gathers biologists who study evolutionary biology, behaviour, ecology, systematics, biogeography, genetics, developmental biology, and the conservation of moths and butterflies. 

Representing LIFE Apollo2020 at BoB

From LIFE Apollo2020 team, Tomasz Suchan from W. Szafer Institute of Botany, Polish Academy of Sciences, will present a poster about our project. As the project has a strong scientific aspect, including genetic analyses that support our aim of establishing permanent metapopulations in the areas of reintroduction, as well as creating a coherent species conservation approach and a Breeding and Conservation Manual, it fits perfectly into the theme of the BoB conference.

LIFE Apollo2020 is looking forward to being represented at the conference, exchanging information with other butterfly experts, and disseminating results the project has obtained so far. We look forward to establishing new valuable contacts with fellow scientists valuable to the LIFE Apollo2020 project!

For more information on the conference, click here.

Learn about breeding and reintroduction in Poland

Breeding and reintroduction of Parnassius apollo have quite a history in Poland. Learn about it in this posting and join our conference (19.09.2022) for free online to learn about the breeding in the LIFE Apollo2020 project. Our breeding experts from Poland, Czechia, and Austria will discuss the legal regulations, challenges, and benefits of breeding in a session from 10:15 – 10:45 CET on 19. September 2022. You will also be able to ask questions and discuss with them!

The Apollo butterfly became extinct in the project areas at the end of the 19th century. In the early 20th century attempts were made by German entomologists to reintroduce it in the Sudetes The introduced individuals were kept in natural conditions in the years 1917–1926. Another attempt to reintroduce the Apollo butterfly, carried out in the Kruczy Kamień Reserve (Poland), took place in the years 1994-1995 and was made by  Jerzy Budzik.  

The species stayed in this location for the next 11 seasons. In 2019, Karkonosze National Park (KPN) introduced 150 pairs of Apollo butterflies in the Kruczy Kamień Reserve and 300 caterpillars on Chojnik Mountain and the meadows surrounding it. Monitoring in 2020 in both locations showed the presence of a new generation of the Apollo butterfly, which has undergone all development stages in natural conditions. Monitoring has shown that the species is able to use convenient habitats but still requires assistance by the supply of captive-bred specimens. 

The LIFE Apollo2020 project has started

In 2020 the “wild” population was supplemented with specimens from breeding – 490 individuals were released into the natural habitats: 250 in Kruczy Kamień Reserve and 240 on the Chojnik Mountain. In 2021 Karkonosze National Park introduced 1916 caterpillars and 2529 butterflies and in 2022 released 19 562 caterpillars in 12 locations. 

The Breeding farm in Karkonosze National Park

The Parnassius apollo breeding farm in Karkonosze National Park has been operating since 2016 and is located in the Karkonosze Gene Bank in Jagniątków. The farm has specialized infrastructure with breeding tents for caterpillars and imago including equipment, an automated greenhouse, a controlled irrigation system, infrastructure for breeding host plants for caterpillars, and a garden with a collection of nectarous plants. The staff at the Karkonosze Gene Bank have experience in breeding Parnassius apollo, which made it possible to start the reintroduction of the Apollo butterfly to natural sites in 2019 – 2022. KPN’s employees developed a system and methodology for breeding Apollo, which will be used and made available for the creation of new farms within the project.

What do you need to breed butterflies?

Equipment consists mainly of terrariums and foldable tents where caterpillars and imagines are held until their release. Terrariums are closed with a permeable net, which limits the access of predators and parasitoids and are placed in a  breeding tent, which protects them from snow and heavy rainfall. When imago appear they are placed in tents with nectariferous plants to mate. Fertilized females are placed in cotton sleeves in which they lay eggs. Eggs are put into glass containers for winter. Breeding tents are used both at the stage of caterpillar development and imago reproduction.

Also, you can join online and attend sessions from our project leaders in Poland. They will share the best key practices and learning points from the Apollo reintroduction process.

Learn more about breeding online at our conference

During our International conference on butterfly conservation, “Science, ecology and innovation for Parnassius apollo conservation in Central Europe”, the breeding experts of the LIFE Apollo2020 project from Austria, Poland, and Czechia will present and discuss the breeding process, legal regulations and challenges of breeding. Join this panel on Monday, 19. September 20200 from 10:15 – 10:45 CET and ask your questions and share your experiences on breeding with our experts! The participation is free of charge.

Our breeding experts look forward to a fruitful exchange with you!

#followapollo and the efforts of our team! Combined skills in breeding, conservation of habitats, research, environmental education, and project management constitute a great combination for the success of our LIFE project

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Missed the registration deadline – participate online!

Science, ecology and innovation for Parnassius apollo conservation in Central Europe – the project’s official Kick-off conference will take place in September, in Jelenia Góra, in the beautiful Giant Mountains, Karkonosze National Park in Poland. Registration for on-site participation is now closed but don’t worry, you can participate online and join the interesting talks and discussions from the comfort of your home.

Panels on Monday

The Species Parnassius apollo
Species status, threats and the biotop status
Genetics of the Apollo butterfly and experiences for other species
Breeding of Parnassius apollo
Habitat and species protection through active conservation
Legal framework & reintroduction effects in Europe
Habitat management & protection
New face of traditional techniques
Guidance and engagement in conservation
The key to meadow biodiversity
#Followapollo- LIFE Apollo 2020 Citizen Science on iNaturalist


Following are only some of the experts that will share their knowledge and experience with you:

More details will be added soon! Make sure to register and secure your spot for free.

#followapollo and the efforts of our team! Combined skills in breeding, conservation of habitats, research, environmental education, and project management constitute a great combination for the success of our LIFE project

Subscribe to our newsletter and receive the latest news on butterfly conservation!