Forest wardens in the Sierra de Guadarrama (Madrid) have discovered a new colony of Mountain Apollo (Parnassius apollo) butterflies.
The species is officially "endangered" and its decline has been attributed to a number of factors. It is of particular interest to entomologists due to the variety of subspecies, often only restricted to a specific valley in the Alps. The beautiful Apollo butterfly has long been prized by collectors, and whilst over-collecting is believed to have caused populations to decline in some areas, such as in Spain and Italy, habitat change is thought to be a far more significant threat to this species survival. Plantations of conifers, agriculture and urbanisation have all reduced the habitat of the Apollo butterfly.
Laws exist to protect the Apollo butterfly in many countries, and it is also listed on Appendix II on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which restricts trade in this species.
The species is in decline across Europe, and numbers have dropped dramatically in France, Germany and Scandinavian countries over the past century.
Forest wardens in the Sierra de Guadarrama will now be studying the real size of this new colony, with the aim of establishing how viable it is.
'Parnassius apollo' is a beautiful, white diurnal butterfly, belonging to the Papilionidae family. It is decorated with large black "eye" spots on the forewings and red eye-spots on the hindwings. These striking red eye-spots can vary in size and form depending on the location of the Apollo butterfly, and the bright red colour often fades in the sun, causing the eye-spots of older individuals to appear more orange. The wings are shiny, with slightly transparent edges, and some individuals are darker. The caterpillars of this species are velvety black with orange-red spots along the sides. As well as being a great deal of individual variation in the appearance of the Apollo butterfly, a number of subspecies have also been described.
There are up to 22 sub-species or varieties of the 'Parnassius apollo' butterfly in Spain, all of which live in small colonies along the main mountain ranges of the Iberian peninsula.
This particular sub-species is exclusive to the Sierra de Guadarrama. It is found on high ground, in very localised areas of the 'sierra' in small isolated colonies, making it very vulnerable to the slightest changes in its habitat, which could quickly lead to its extinction.