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 email@example.com. 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
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