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.

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

Livestock Grazing’s Role in Preserving Apollo’s Habitat

By Vlado Vancura

Domestic grazers, like livestock, might seem to be an unexpected ally for Apollo butterflies. Their role in creating a suitable habitat for this butterfly is fascinating. When the livestock graze, they systematically remove the emerging sprouts of trees and shrubs. That is their way how maintaining an open landscape. It is a process that helps to diversify meadows and preserves the open landscape that P. apollo thrive.

In the past, the role of creating suitable habitats, not only for Apollo butterflies but also for various other insects, was primarily fulfilled by native grazers like red deer, roe deer, wild goats, wild horses, European bison, or also the extinct auroch. These wild herbivores played a crucial part in shaping the landscape through their feeding behavior, preventing excessive growth of shrubs and trees. The unintentional impact of these grazers resulted in the removal of growing shrubs and young trees, maintaining open spaces. These open spaces allowed sunlight to reach the ground, establishing and sustaining the specific conditions vital for the life of Parnasius apollo. Simultaneously, this natural process diversified plant life, offering a variety of nectar sources for butterflies and host plants for their larvae.

Today, domestic animals such as cows, sheep, goats, and horses play a comparable function in habitat preservation to native grazers. The grazing actions of these domestic grazers help to create open spaces and allow sunlight to reach the ground. As a result, domestic grazers actively encourage the growth of a wide range of plant species that serve as nectar supplies for adult butterflies (imagines) and host plants for larvae. With careful management, domestic grazers can become collaborative partners in biodiversity conservation. This example vividly demonstrates how human actions, when coordinated with natural rhythms, can considerably benefit the well-being of P. apollo butteflies.

Grazing behaviours varies among domestic grazers. Sheep carefully nibble close to the ground, resulting in properly groomed areas.  As browsers, goats extend their reach to shrub leaves and twigs, causing vegetation to change structure. Cattle use a sweeping grazing motion to impact bigger areas.  Each species makes a distinctive contribution to the shaping of environment. Understanding and applying the various grazing habits of numerous domestic grazers allows us to build a balance that closely matches natural processes and in which also Apollo butterflies can thrive.

Today, the thriving habitat of the Parnassius Apollo, encompassing alpine and subalpine grasslands, dry calcareous grasslands, and slopes in upland areas, faces a threat from uncontrolled vegetation overgrowth. The delicate balance crucial for supporting the unique flora essential to the butterfly’s life cycle depends on well-maintained open spaces. Ensuring stable Apollo populations necessitates a habitat that provides both food plants for the larvae and nectareous plants for the adults. Domestic pastures provide as a safeguard, preventing spontaneous overgrowth, which happens quickly when grazing is reduced or stopped. Strategic grazing management, particularly with the help of goats, proves effective in reducing the vegetation growth and protecting a vital environment for the Parnassius apollo.

This demonstrates how coordinated conservation efforts, particularly through effective domestic animal grazing management, can be realised. When faced with the difficulty of protecting important open spaces, incorporating grazing practices emerges as a viable solution to ensure Parnassius apollo’s existence. It provides a compelling model for harmonious interaction with the environment while preserving the captivating world of these butterflies.

2024: Mosel’s Apollo crowned as Butterfly of the Year!

In 2024, the charming Mosel region has crowned the Apollo Butterfly as its Butterfly of the Year! This magnificent insect has captured the hearts of locals and visitors alike with its vibrant beauty and captivating charm. Choosing the apollo for Butterfly of the Year, a decision which was also influenced by nature conservation organisations such as BUND NRW, has a worrying background: In the Mosel region, pesticides are still used that send apollo population down a dark path.

The Mosel wine region in Germany is not only renowned for its picturesque landscapes and world-class wines but also for the unique ecosystem that thrives there. However, this delicate balance of nature is now under threat as the use of pesticides in the vineyards has begun to take a toll on the insects resident in the Mosel region, including the Parnassius apollo. The decrease of individuals in the Mosel region correlates with the use of pesticides in recent years. Pesticides are spread by helicopters and it is particularly noteworthy that at least the new substances used in recent times are applied without any nature conservation impact assessment.

The subpopulation of the Mosel region, namely Parnassius apollo ssp. vinningensis, only exists in this particular region. It differs slightly from apollo subspecies in the Alps, Sweden or from those found in Spain. Beyond its visual appeal, the Apollo Butterfly possesses an intriguing life cycle. The species is known for its preference for high-altitude habitats, making the Mosel region an ideal home if it were not for applied chemicals and pesticides.

The Apollo Butterfly’s recognition as Butterfly of the Year is a testament to its vibrant beauty and captivating charm. At the same time, however, it is a warning. Like in many other European regions as well as in Germany, the apollo population of the Mosel region is declining rapidly and is in great danger of extinction. Alternatives for harmful pesticides must be found if this beautiful butterfly should be protected. Moreover, it is essential to preserve the habitats that this species relies on. By protecting their preferred host plants and maintaining the natural balance of the ecosystem, the magnificent butterflies can thrive. In the Mosel region, visitors still flock to the area to witness the Apollo Butterfly in its natural habitat, with guided tours and educational programs providing an opportunity to learn more about this enchanting species. This might change in the future though if nothing is done right now.

The Apollo Butterfly’s striking appearance and graceful flight have also inspired artists and designers in the region. Their unique patterns and colors have been incorporated into various forms of art, from paintings to jewelry. Local festivals and events now celebrate the Apollo Butterfly, with dedicated butterfly-themed exhibitions and workshops. These festivities not only showcase the region’s rich cultural heritage but also raise awareness about the importance of preserving biodiversity and the delicate balance of nature.

As we celebrate the Apollo Butterfly being crowned as the Butterfly of the Year in 2024, we are reminded of the beauty and wonder that nature bestows upon us. We are also reminded of the harm humans can do to other creatures smaller and weaker than us if we do not realise that we are part of the natural ecosystem.

Happy Winter Holidays!

As snow covers the landscape, marking the end of the Apollo butterfly season, our project team wrapped up the outdoor activities with a final round of debushing in various regions. As we transitioned from the field to the office, we were immersed in the task of analysing and summing up monitoring data from our breeding farms and habitat monitoring.

Reflecting on the previous year, our international team is proud of not only the successful breeding and habitat preservation efforts, but also the impactful educational activities held to promote awareness about the Parnassius apollo. During the peak seasons of Apollo butterfly activity, spring and summer, we organised a number of engaging events in Poland, Czechia, and Austria, such as the creation of Apollo gardens, school classes, workshops, or open days. These activities were intended to emphasise the importance of protecting nature and our mountain Apollo.

And what actually happens to Apollo during the winter? This butterfly employ a unique survival strategy. As adults, Apollos do not migrate or overwinter, preferring the warmth of the sun. Before dying in late summer or early autumn, Apollo butterflies place their eggs near caterpillar food plants. There, the eggs patiently endure the cold and even snow, waiting for warmer days to arrive and begin their incredible transformation from a small egg to a magnificent butterfly.

As we conclude this year, we extend warm holiday wishes to all, with gratitude for your support in our efforts to conserve these creatures. May the festive season bring you joy, peace, and the warmth of cherished moments. See you in 2024!

The beauty of butterfly wings

Butterfly wings are the most striking part of a butterfly’s body and are certainly the reason why butterflies are so popular with people and why they are so attractive. The combination of all sorts of colours on butterfly wings is not just a random freak of nature, but it has several purposes.

One of these is recognition between individuals of the same species. At mating time, the male attracts the female by the colour combination on its wings. Last but not least, the colours on the wings serve as protection against predators. For example, some dull-coloured moths perch on tree bark during the day and, thanks to their inconspicuous colouring, blend in perfectly with the ground and escape the eyes of predators. Other butterflies have a warning colouration. Our hero Apollo will display its red-meshed hindwings in an attempt to scare off predators.

But what makes butterfly wings so colourful? It may sound surprising, but the colour is caused by thousands and thousands very tiny formations, a few tenths of a millimetre in size, which are shaped like scales. Even the scientific name of Lepidoptera butterflies is derived from these scales. In fact, the word Lepidoptera is a compound of the two Greek words lepís (scale) and pterós (wings) and was first used by the father of scientific nomenclature for plants and animals, Carl Linné.

Eye with scales on the hindwing of the Apollo

The scales are coloured with various pigments and this is one of the reasons for the colourfulness of butterfly wings. In addition, in some butterflies, the edges and various surface structures of the scales refract and reflect light and this causes them to shine.

The scales are stacked side by side on the butterfly’s wing and overlap each other; they are arranged like shingles on a roof. In some butterflies the number of scales per square millimetre can be more than 500, but in Apollo the number of scales is smaller, giving the wings a translucent appearance. If you ever catch a butterfly in your hand and get “coloured dust” on your hand, it is these scales that you have wiped off the butterfly’s wing.

The edge of the wing of Apollo. The scales are not as densely packed here, so the wing margin has a translucent appearance

The scales are therefore responsible for the colour and lustre of the butterfly’s wings. But they also have other functions. They are filled with air, which makes them very light and helps butterflies fly. They also serve as excellent thermal insulation. Scientists believe that this is the main reason why butterflies evolved scales. This is because they are not only on the butterfly’s wings, but also on the butterfly’s chest and other parts of the butterfly’s body, helping to maintain the high body temperature needed during flight.

Enlarged scales that are arranged like shingles on a roof

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

How dogs assist in the detection of Apollo caterpillars

People discovered the sensitivity of a dog’s nose thousands of years ago, initially using it for hunting. Fast forward to present, and these animals have evolved into valuable members of our society, serving in police, customs, military, and rescue missions. Dogs have an incredible sense of smell that is a million times more sensitive than ours. It is related to the numerous scent receptors in their noses and the highly developed nasal processing centers in their brains. Dogs not only use their noses to detect scents, but they can also differentiate between various odours with amazing accuracy. 

Thanks to that, dogs have become indispensable in research and conservation projects over the last 30 years. These sniffer dogs have been trained for a variety of tasks ranging from tracking wolves, lynx, wildcats, or bats to identifying carcasses (dead bodies), litter, and even targeting small insects. The possibilities are almost limitless, as long as the target object emits a smell, dogs can track it down. While this type of use of dog is common in the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, the use of nature or species protection dogs remains relatively unknown in Europe. 

And #LIFEApollo2020 is proud to be one of these scientific projects!

What: Our focus is on collecting data about Parnassius apollo with detection dogs playing a key role in mapping caterpillar population across selected sites. These dogs ensure precise and non-invasive data collection by identifying unique odors associated with Apollo caterpillars and their habitats.

How: Dogs undergo a special training, that teaches them to recognize the unique odors associated with Apollo caterpillars. At first, the dog sniffs the live caterpillars and gets a treat for it. Then, tea bags scented with the caterpillar odor are introduced as a game element. The dog learns to associate finding the tea bags with getting a reward. As the training progresses, the dog practices in different places to get better at identifying the caterpillar scent. This simple but effective method helps the dog find the Apollo butterfly caterpillar in the wild.

When: Fieldwork usually takes place from March/April to June, when the caterpillars hatch from the eggs and crawl around. 

Why: Dogs with their great sense of smell easily overtake humans in finding and detecting targets. The caterpillar monitoring, facilitated by the human-dog team guides us in conservation efforts, allowing us to make informed decisions on preserving this endangered species in its natural habitat.

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.

Decline of Parnassius apollo

Parnassius apollo, commonly known as the Apollo butterfly, is a beautiful and iconic species of butterfly found in Europe and Asia. Unfortunately, this species is on a rapid decline due to several factors, including habitat loss, climate change, and over-collecting.

The Apollo butterfly has a very specific habitat requirement, which is high altitude meadows and rocky slopes with specific plant species for feeding and breeding. However, these habitats are under threat from human activities such as tourism, agricultural expansion, and infrastructure development. As a result, the population of the Apollo butterfly is decreasing at an alarming rate. 

Factors of the decline 

Parnassius apollo belongs to the most attractive butterfly and very often appreciated not onlyby scientists but also visitors. Therefore, decline of this butterfly species is so sensitive and painful. Decline of Parnassius apollo, particularly in a central Europe is dated back already since the 19 centuries. 

Observations of gradual decline, some environmentalist even use the word extinction, of this butterfly in Europe identified numerous cases, proved that decline is very much due to combined negative impact on Parnassius population. 

There are several major factors contributing to the decline of the Parnassius apollo population. One of the main factors is habitat loss. The main reason for that are human activities such as tourism, infrastructure development, and agricultural expansion. 

Habitat requirements

The Apollo butterfly has very specific habitat requirements, including high altitude meadows and rocky slopes with certain plant species for feeding and breeding. When these habitats are destroyed or degraded, the butterfly population declines.

Habitat loss is one of the main factors to the decline of the Parnassius apollo
Combination of habitat loss, climate change, over-collecting, and pollution are the major factors contributing to the decline of the Parnassius apollo

Climate change

Climate change is another major factor affecting the Apollo butterfly population. The butterfly’s life cycle is closely tied to the timing of the availability of host plants and pollinators, which can be disrupted by changes in temperature and precipitation patterns. As a result, the butterfly may not be able to complete its life cycle and reproduce successfully.

Over-collecting 

Over-collecting of the Apollo butterfly is also a contributing factor to its decline. Some people collect the butterfly for commercial purposes or for private collections, while others collect it for scientific research. This can have a significant impact on the population, especially if it is not done sustainably.

Pesticide use

Finally, the Apollo butterfly is also affected by pesticide use and other pollutants in the environment. These substances can be toxic to the butterfly and its host plants, and can disrupt the delicate balance of the ecosystem.

Overall, a combination of habitat loss, climate change, over-collecting, and pollution are the major factors contributing to the decline of the Parnassius apollo population. It is important that effective conservation efforts are put in place to address these issues and protect this beautiful species.

Major groups of factors

Experts agreed on the three major groups of factors such as: 

a) natural factors including long-term climatic changes, habitat succession, and short-term weather anomalies; 

b) anthropogenic factors that include broad impact of industrialization and butterfly over-collecting; 

c) intrapopulation factors that include genetic erosion and behavioural changes. 

Habitat loss is undoubtedly the most destructive for Apollo’s long-term survival. There are several interesting researches and monitorings which provide very important information concerning causes of extinction of numerous butterflies in their biotopes in Europe. 

Conservation efforts

To help protect the Apollo butterfly, several conservation efforts have been implemented (one of them is our LIFE Apollo2020 project). These include habitat restoration, captive breeding, and protection of important sites. However, these efforts must be implemented on a larger scale and in a coordinated manner involving multiple stakeholders, including governments, NGOs, researchers, local communities, and individuals.

Conclusion

In conclusion, urgent action is needed to prevent the extinction of the Apollo butterfly. Conservation efforts must be comprehensive and well-coordinated to ensure the long-term survival of this beautiful and important specie

Very useful on this aspect is report developed by the expert of IUCN already two decades ago. These data provided important baseline for any kind of follow up researches and management measures to support survival rate of this rare butterfly. This work provides various protective measures that were, or should be undertaken to stop further Parnassius apollo decline. 

Climate change is a significant threat to the survival of Parnassius apollo. The altered environmental conditions and increased frequency of extreme weather events can negatively impact their habitats, food sources, and overall health and survival.