Parnassiinae Duponchel, [1835]

Vazrick Nazari and Felix A. H. Sperling
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taxon links [up-->]Hypermnestra [up-->]Luehdorfia [up-->]Zerynthia [up-->]Bhutanitis [up-->]Sericinus [up-->]Archon [up-->]Doritites bosniackii [up-->]Parnassius [up-->]Thaites ruminiana [up-->]Allancastria extinct icon extinct icon Phylogenetic position of group is uncertainPhylogenetic position of group is uncertain[down<--]Papilionidae Interpreting the tree
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Phylogeny after Nazari et al., 2007.
Containing group: Papilionidae


The subfamily Parnassiinae is a group of essentially Palaearctic butterflies that live in a variety of habitats, ranging from arid deserts (Hypermnestra) to humid forests (Luehdorfia), lowland meadows (Zerynthia), and high alpine habitats (Parnassius). A few species of the genus Parnassius constitute the only representatives of the subfamily in the Western Hemisphere, where they occur in the Nearctic region (Opler and Warren, 2003).

These butterflies have been studied since the time of Linnaeus (1758), who named, among others, the magnificent Parnassius apollo. Interest in the group grew in the 18th and early 19th century when more material became available from the Far East and the Himalayas (Smart, 1976). The breathtaking beauty of Bhutanitis species and the variability of the genus Parnassius quickly made them popular among butterfly collectors who bragged about rare and unusual specimens in their collections (Salmon, 2000). At some point in the nineteenth century, these butterflies gained so much popularity that many European museums deployed expeditions to the Himalayan region solely in search of rare and undiscovered species of Parnassiinae (Talbot, 1939). Of the three parties of collectors sent in search of Bhutanitis lidderdali between 1868 and 1890 by the British Museum, the first was plundered by natives, the second was stricken by fever and one of its members died, and the third had a man killed by a tiger. All three returned without success, although further specimens of this species became available a few years later in the 1890s (Talbot, 1939).

The subfamily includes eight extant genera that, based on most recent molecular studies, can be grouped in three tribes: Parnassiini (Hypermnestra, Parnassius), Zerynthiini (Sericinus, Bhutanitis, Zerynthia, Allancastria), and Luehdorfiini (Luehdorfia, Archon) (sensu Nazari et al., 2007; also see Stekolnikov and Kuznetsov, 2003; Omoto et al., 2004; Katoh et al., 2005). Parnassius has the highest number of species among the genera in the subfamily, and depending on the checklist, between 38 to 47 species are recognized, each with many subspecies and individual forms (Bryk, 1935; Collins and Morris, 1985; Weiss, 1991-2005; Häuser et al., 2005). The systematic position of two fossil taxa, Thaitites ruminiana and Doritites bosniackii, has been difficult to resolve partly due to incomplete character preservation (Hancock, 1983, Nazari et al., 2007).


Putative synapomorphies for Parnassiinae include (Ehrlich, 1968; Miller, 1987; Nazari et al., 2007):

Putative synapomorphies for Parnassiini (Hypermnestra , Parnassius) are (Hancock, 1983; Miller, 1987; Nazari et al., 2007):

Hypermnestra possesses many autapomorphies that suggest a deep divergence with Parnassius (Nazari et al., 2007).

Putative synapomorphies for Zerynthiini (Sericinus , Bhutanitis , Zerynthia , Allancastria) include (Hancock 1983; Miller 1987; Nazari et al., 2007):

The tribe Luehdorfiini (sensu Nazari et al., 2007) was recently revised based on DNA evidence from five mitochondrial and two nuclear genes, and there are no morphological characters known to unite Archon and Luehdorfia (Nazari et al., 2007).

Discussion of Phylogenetic Relationships

Three tribes are recognized within Parnassiinae: Parnassiini (including Hypermnestra and Parnassius), Zerynthiini (including Allancastria, Sericinus, Zerynthia, and Bhutanitis), and Luehdorfiini (including Archon and Luehdorfia) (sensu Nazari et al., 2007). Most previous morphological classifications, however, placed Archon with Parnassiini and Luehdorfia with Zerynthiini, recognizing only two tribes (Ehrlich, 1958; Munroe, 1961; Ackery, 1975; Hancock, 1983; Igarashi, 1984; Collins and Morris, 1985; Häuser et al., 2005). Some of these studies have considered these two tribes to be separate subfamilies (Bryk, 1934; Talbot, 1939; Ford, 1944a, b; Eisner, 1974; Higgins, 1975; Chunsheng, 2001) or even families (Clench, 1955; Hemming, 1960; Eisner, 1974). although most recent authors discount this idea (e.g. Häuser et al., 2005).

The correct positions of the genera Archon, Hypermnestra and Luehdorfia have been disputed; Archon has sometimes been included in Zerynthiini (Eisner, 1974; Higgins, 1975) or in a separate sub-tribe within Parnassiini (Koçak, 1989). Häuser (1993) suggested a separate subfamily for Hypermnestra based on a number of morphological and ecological autapomorphies, a view previously expressed by Dujardin (1965), Hiura (1980), and Korshunov (1990) (as reported by Korb, 1997). A recent study of genitalic characters (Stekolnikov and Kuznetsov, 2003) recognized the tribe “Hypermnestriini Hiura 1980” and gave subfamily status (Luehdorfiinae Tutt, 1896) to Luehdorfia based on putatively primitive genitalic characters (also see Ford, 1944b).

The molecular phylogeny of the subfamily has been unresolved for a long time, due in part to incomplete sampling of previous molecular studies (Caterino et al., 2001; Omoto et al., 2004; Katoh et al., 2005). However, a recent study (Nazari et al., 2007) using evidence from five mitochondrial and two nuclear genes in conjunction with 236 morphological characters, has determined three tribes within the subfamily Parnassiinae, as discussed above.

The systematic position of two fossil taxa, Thaitites ruminiana and Doritites bosniackii, has remained largely unresolved (Hancock, 1983), although a close affinity between Doritites and Archon has recently been found (Nazari et al., 2007).


Ackery, P.R., 1975. A guide to the genera and species of Parnassiinae (Lepidoptera: Papilionidae). Bull. Brit. Mus. (Nat. Hist.), Ent., 31: 71-105, plates 1-15.

Bryk, F., 1934. Baroniidae, Teinopalpidae, Parnassiidae, pars.I. Das Tierreich, Deutschen Zoologische Gesellschaft im Auftrag der Preussischen Akademie der Wissensch. Berlin und Lepizig, 64: I-XXIII, 1-131.

Bryk, F., 1935. Parnassiinae Part II. Das Tierreich, Deutschen Zoologische Gesellschaft im Auftrag der Preussischen Akademie der Wissensch. Berlin und Lepizig, 65: I-LI, 1-790.

Caterino, M.S., Reed, R.D., Kuo, M.M., Sperling, F.A.H., 2001. A partitioned likelihood analysis of swallowtail butterfly phylogeny (Lepidoptera : Papilionidae). Syst. Biol. 50: 106-127.

Chunsheng, W., 2001. Fauna Sinica, Insecta Vol. 25: Lepidoptera Papilionidae; Papilioninae, Zerynthiinae, Parnassiinae. Beijing, Ke xue chu ban she, 367 pp.

Clench, H.K., 1955. Revised classification of the butterfly family Lycaenidae and its allies. Ann. Carneg. Mus. 33: 261-274.

Collins, N.M., Morris, M.G., 1985. Threatened Swallowtail Butterflies of the World: The IUCN Red data book. Gland, Switzerland. 401 pp. Hancock, D.L., 1983. Classification of the Papilionidae (Lepidoptera): a phylogenetic approach. Smithersia 2: 1-48.

Dujardin, F., 1965. Papilionidae: Especes de France et sous-especes des Alpes-Maritimes. Entomops (Revue Trimestrielle des entomologists des Alpes Maritimes et de la Corse), 3: 77-89.

Ehrlich, P.R., 1958. The comparative morphology, phylogeny, and higher classification of butterflies (Lepidoptera: Papilionidae). Univ. Kans. Sci. Bull. 34: 305-370.

Eisner, C., 1974. Parnassiana Nova XLIX. Die Arten und Unterarten der Baroniidae, Teinopalpidae und Parnassiidae (Erster teil) (Lepidoptera). Zoologische Verhandelingen Uitgegeven door het Rijksmuseum van Natuurlijke Historie te Leiden, 135: 1-96.

Ford, E.B., 1944a. Studies on the chemistry of pigments in the Lepidoptera, with references to their bearing on systematics. 3. The red pigment of the Papilionidae. The Proceedings of the Royal Entomological Society of London 19: 92-106.

Ford, E.B., 1944b. Studies on the chemistry of pigments in the Lepidoptera, with references to their bearing on systematics. 4. The classification of the Papilionidae. The Transactions of the Royal Entomological Society of London 94: 201-223.

Häuser, C.L., 1993. Critical comments on the phylogenetic relationships within the family Papilionidae (Lepidoptera). Nota Lepidopterologicae 16: 34-43.

Häuser, C.L., de Jong, R., Lamas, G., Robbins, R.K., Smith, C., Vane-Wright, R.I., 2005. Papilionidae – revised GloBIS/GART species checklist (2nd draft). Accessed December 2005.

Hemming, F., 1960. Annotationes Lepidopterologicae 2: 41-47.

Higgins, L.G., 1975. The Classification of European Butterflies. London, Collins, 320 pp.

Hiura, I., 1980. A phylogeny of the genera of Parnassiinae based on analysis of wing pattern, with description of a anew genus (Lepiopdtera: Papilionidae). Bulletin of the Osaka Museum of Natural History 33: 71-85.

Igarashi, S., 1984. The classification of the Papilionidae mainly based on the morphology of their immature stages. Tyô to Ga 34: 41-96.

Katoh, T., Chechvarkin, A., Yagi, T., Omoto, K., 2005. Phylogeny and evolution of butterflies of the genus Parnassius: Inferences from mitochondrial 16S and ND1 sequences. Zoological Science 22: 343-351.

Koçak, A.O., 1989. Description of the genus Adoritis (gen. n.) with notes on other closely related groups in Parnassiinae (Papilionidae, Lepidoptera). Priamus 4: 163-170.

Korb, S.K., 1997. To the knowledge of faunogenesis in diurnal butterflies (Lepidoptera, Rhopalocera) from central Asia. Ent. Rev. 77: 1167-1180.

Korshunov, Yu. P., 1990. New Genera of the Subfamily Parnassiinae Swainson, 1840. In: Taxonomy of Arthropods and Helminths; Novosibrisk, Nauka, pp. 99-105; in Russian (reference not seen; from Korb, 1997).

Linnaeus, C. V., 1758. Systema Naturae, Ed. X. (Systema naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis. Tomus I. Editio decima, reformata.) Holmiae. Systema Nat. ed. 10 i-ii + 1-824.

Munroe, E., 1961. The classification of the Papilionidae (Lepidoptera). The Canadian Entomologist Supplement 17: 1-51.

Nazari, V., Zakharov, E.V., Sperling, F.A.H., 2007. Phylogeny, historical biogeography, and taxonomic ranking of Parnassiinae (Lepidoptera, Papilionidae) based on morphology and seven genes. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 42: 131-156.

Omoto, K., Katoh, T., Chichvarkhin, A., Yagi, T., 2004. Molecular systematics and evolution of the 'Apollo' butterflies of the genus Parnassius (Lepidoptera: Papilionidae) based on mitochondrial DNA sequence data. Gene 326: 141-147.

Opler, P., Warren, A., 2003. Scientific names list for butterfly species of North America, north of Mexico. Fort Collins, Co., Gillette Museum of Arthropod Diversity, Dept. of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management, Colorado State University, 2003. 79 pp.

Salmon, M.A., 2000. The Aurelian Legacy: British Butterflies and Their Collectors. Berkeley, University of California Press. 432 p.

Smart, P., 1976. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Butterfly World. Hamlyn, London.

Stekolnikov, A.A., Kuznetsov, V.I., 2003. Evolution of the male genitalia, phylogenesis, and systematic position of the subfamilies Baroniinae Salvin, 1893, Luehdorfiinae Tutt, 1896 stat.n., and Zerynthiinae Grote, 1899 in the family Papilionidae (Lepidoptera). Ent. Rev. 83: 436-350.

Talbot, G., 1939. The Fauna of British India, Including Ceylon and Burma. Butterflies, Vol. I. Taylor and Francis Ltd., London.

Weiss, J.C., 1991. The Parnassiinae of the World. Part 1. Sciences Nat, Venette, France. p. 1-48.

Weiss, J.C., 1992. The Parnassiinae of the World. Part 2. Sciences Nat, Venette, France. p. 49-136.

Weiss, J.C., 1999. The Parnassiinae of the World. Part 3. Hillside Books, Canterbury, U.K., p. 137-236.

Weiss, J.C., 2005. The Parnassiinae of the World. Part 4. Hillside Books, Canterbury, U.K., p. 237-400.

Title Illustrations
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Scientific Name Parnassius apollo
Location north of Mt. Bavski Grintavec, Zadnja Trenta valley, 1.400 m, East Julian Alps, Posocje, Slovenia
Specimen Condition Live Specimen
Identified By Dr. Amadej Trnkoczy
Source Collection CalPhotos
Copyright © 2005
About This Page

Vazrick Nazari
Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes, Ottawa, Canada

Felix A. H. Sperling
University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Correspondence regarding this page should be directed to Vazrick Nazari at and Felix A. H. Sperling at

Page: Tree of Life Parnassiinae Duponchel, [1835]. Authored by Vazrick Nazari and Felix A. H. Sperling. The TEXT of this page is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution License - Version 3.0. Note that images and other media featured on this page are each governed by their own license, and they may or may not be available for reuse. Click on an image or a media link to access the media data window, which provides the relevant licensing information. For the general terms and conditions of ToL material reuse and redistribution, please see the Tree of Life Copyright Policies.

Citing this page:

Nazari, Vazrick and Felix A. H. Sperling. 2006. Parnassiinae Duponchel, [1835]. Version 07 July 2006. in The Tree of Life Web Project,

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