Saturday, July 24, 2010

Fairy Princess - American Appollo

Diamond Lake, Douglas County, Oregon, July 22, 2010

Earlier this week I read about mouse birds on (Post: “Avian chimera?”). I thought to myself, “How has something so fascinating passed me by?” On Thursday I happened on a natural event that surprised me just as much … and it was on my own turf.

Have you ever heard of a chastity belt, supposedly invented in the middle ages to prevent sexual encounters? On Thursday I found out, much to my surprise, that such a thing exists amongst a certain butterfly. But I’m jumping ahead. I’ll start from the beginning.

It is midday at Diamond Lake, high in the Oregon Cascades. I am sitting in the car resting a sore ankle. On Tuesday I slipped down a muddy embankment and soaked a good chunk of me in Ben Irving Reservoir … but I did save the camera. I was stalking a dragonfly and didn’t see the narrow channel cut into the grassy embankment. On my way down into the mud, I twisted around and succeeded in placing my camera on the grass. Twisted. Not a good idea. I can walk on it, but it aches after awhile. But I digress ….

I’m sitting in the car and Dale is chasing an elusive snaketail dragonfly. A fairly large butterfly floats past me and lands on a nearby yarrow. That is when I realize there are three white butterflies on the yarrow, and the butterflies aren’t the slightly smaller pine white we so commonly see in the forest.

What are they doing? All three are hanging close together and two seem to be very busy. I grab my camera and sit next to the plant without disturbing them. My knee makes a handy monopod.

I don’t ever remember seeing this species of butterfly before, but I could easily have passed them off as pine whites from a distance. These are lovely! Their wings are semi translucent and sport delicate darks lines along with dark rimmed red spots. The wings remind me of something a fairy princess might wear. Silky hairs add to the ethereal look.

But what are they doing? One seems to have the lower part of its abdomen covered in a moist white substance, and the other has a reddish tip on the abdomen. The third butterfly wants to be part of the action, but there really isn’t room for a threesome. One leaves. I shoot frame after frame until the other two fly off, one chasing the other. They spiral higher and higher into the summer sky.

Back home I find I was watching the American Apollo butterfly, Parnassius clodius. There are three Parnassians in the United States, and they are members of the swallowtail family. The male lays the waxy white stuff, known as a spragis, onto his mated female so that she can’t mate with other males. The spragis contains his sperm and some nutrients. From the photos I can see I had two males and one female on the yarrow.


  1. What photos you got. What and interesing bug. I have never heard of such a thing. I hope you get to feeling better soon. I am glad you didn't get hurt any worse. Save the camera at all costs. ;)

  2. Elva,
    Your posts just keep getting better and better. I usually have a limited attention span when it comes to bugs, but you kept me hooked right to the end. Lovely photos too!

  3. Wow! How very cool! Love the photos and I agree they very much have an ethereal look to them.

    Glad to hear you save the camera, and I'm hoping the "cost" to you wasn't too much! Take good care of you!

  4. Amazing. Your photos and your narratives are always a joy to read and to see.

  5. Elva, you continue to amaze. You know to look closely at even what appears to be the mundane, because you never know what you will see. Keep it up. You have us hooked! Obviously, we now know where your daughter gets her writing skills.

    Norma, WS Cohort