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Montana Field Guides

Rocky Mountain Parnassian - Parnassius smintheus

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S5

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General Description
Not all authorities have agreed on the specific status of members in the Parnassius smintheus group (see Ferris 1976; Scott 1986; Guppy and Shepard 2001; Pyle 2002; Warren 2005; Schoville and Roderick 2009), with some treating P. smintheus as a subspecies of P. phoebus, others treating P. smintheus and P. phoebus as full species, currently the accepted status. Given past taxonomic uncertainty and instability, this account might include information pertaining to more than one species.

[From Ferris and Brown 1981; Scott 1986; Opler and Wright 1999; Glassberg 2001; Pyle 2002] Forewing 2.4-3.6 cm. Antennae with alternating black and white rings and black club, abdomen and front of face with yellow hairs. Uppersurface white (possibly with extensive sooty overscaling), forewing usually with bottom of black bar in cell rounded and not reaching bottom of cell, at least two small red spots near leading edge, male with black submarginal band and usually a median black spot on towards trailing edge; hindwing with at least two red spots (red more extensive in females). Undersurface usually with more extensive red markings but otherwise similar to uppersurface.

One flight, mostly June at low elevation, July to mid-August at high elevation (Scott 1986). Late May to August in the Rocky Mountains (Glassberg 2001). Mid-May to late August in Colorado (Emmel 1964; Scott and Scott 1978; Scott and Epstein 1987), late April to mid-October in Oregon and Washington (Pyle 2002), late June to late August in Oregon (Warren 2005), early June to late September in British Columbia (Guppy and Shepard 2001).

Diagnostic Characteristics
Best determined by a combination of large size, white base color with darkest markings black (not grayish), red spots on both forewings and hindwings, alternating black and white bands on antennae, face with yellowish hairs (not white).

Species Range
Montana Range

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Range Comments
Southeastern Alaska Panhandle, northwestern British Columbia and southern Yukon, south in Rocky Mountains and hills on high plains to northwestern California, northeastern Nevada, southeastern Utah, northern New Mexico, east to the Black Hills of South Dakota and western Nebraska (Ferris 1976; Scott 1986; Opler and Wright 1999; Glassberg 2001; Guppy and Shepard 2001); 2134 m to at least 4267 m elevation in Colorado (Brown 1957; Ferris and Brown 1981; Scott and Scott 1978), 1371 m to at least 3292 m elevation in Wyoming (Ferris 1976; Ferris and Brown 1981), 884 m to 2530 m elevation in Oregon (Warren 2005), 456 m to at least 2134 m elevation in British Columbia (Threatful 1988; Guppy 1998). In Montana, reported from at least 37 counties in the western 2/3 of the state, east in the north to Phillips County, in the south to Big Horn County (Kohler 1980; Stanford and Opler 1993; FLMNH Lepidopterists' Society database), 975 m to at least 3200 m elevation (Ferris 1976; Hendricks 1986). Common in the Rocky Mountains (Glassberg 2001).

Summary of Observations Submitted for Montana
Number of Observations: 13

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density



(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

Non-migratory. Maximum distances moved by marked adults less than 2.0 km (Scott 1975b; Roland et al. 2000; Matter et al. 2004).

Foothill canyons, sagebrush flats, montane meadows, glacial moraines, above treeline in rocky alpine terrain (Ferris and Brown 1981; Scott 1986; Guppy 1998; Opler and Wright 1999; Glassberg 2001; Guppy and Shepard 2001; Pyle 2002). In Glacier National Park, Montana reported from alpine terrain (Debinski 1993); in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, reported from xeric montane meadows dominated by sagebrush, other high-elevation rocky habitats (Debinski and Pritchard 2002; Debinski et al. 2013).

Food Habits
Larval food plants are members of the Crassulaceae, particularly several species of Sedum (Ferris and Brown 1981; Scott 1986, 1992, 2006; Guppy and Shepard 2001; Pyle 2002; Warren 2005; James and Nunnallee 2011). Adults feed on flower nectar (including Achillea, Agoseris, Antennaria, Apocynum, Arenaria, Arnica, Astragalus, Ceanothus, Chrysothamnus, Cirsium, Erigeron, Eriogonum, Erysimum, Gaillardia, Geum, Gutierrezia, Haplopappus, Harbouria, Helianthus, Heterotheca, Hymenoxys, Jamesia, Lesquerella, Monarda, Physocarpus, Polygonum, Potentilla, Rudbeckia, Scutellaria, Sedum, Senecio, Taraxacum, Tragopogon), sap, and mud (Scott 2014).

Reproductive Characteristics
Females lay eggs laid singly and haphazardly on soil, litter, rocks, other plant species near host plant (Scott 1986, 1992, 2006; Guppy and Shepard 2001; Pyle 2002; James and Nunnallee 2011). Up to 95 eggs laid by a single female, egg viability (proportion of eggs hatching) averages 46% (Matter et al. 2006). Eggs may overwinter with a well-developed embryo (L1 instar), hatch within 2 days of exposure to warm temperatures, reach L3 instar 13-14 days after egg-hatch, total larval period to L5 instar and pupa 70-84 days, adults eclose (emerge from pupae) in about 14 days (Guppy and Shepard 2001; James and Nunnallee 2011). Larvae feed nocturnally mostly on leaf tips,, rest openly or concealed on host plant, build no nest, may overwinter as older larvae or pupae in some northern areas, pupate in thin cocoon on ground in litter (Scott 1979, 1986; Guppy and Shepard 2001; James and Nunnallee 2011). Males patrol throughout the day low to the ground near host plant in search of females. Males mate preferentially with young virgin females, sometimes before females have expanded their wings upon emergence from pupae. Copulation lengthy (several hours); male then secretes a waxy sphragis on female abdomen to prevent further mating (Scott 1975a, Scott 1986; James and Nunnallee 2011; Matter et al. 2012).

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Citation for data on this website:
Rocky Mountain Parnassian — Parnassius smintheus.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from