I, Clodius

Birders talk about their nemesis birds — the ones they try time after time to see but always seem to miss.  Too much wind.  Too late in the day.  Flew off five minutes before.

Butterfliers have their nemesis butterflies, too.  Mine are parnassians, those archaic tail-less swallowtails found mostly in montane or arctic environments across the northern hemisphere.  Also known as apollos, there are two species that occur regularly in the mountain west:  Rocky Mountain Parnassian, and Clodius Parnassian.  I have search for either or both for years, every time I’m in the Rockies or the intermountain West.  And all to no avail.

So I spent several of my days in Utah earlier this month trying to find parnassians, in this case, Parnassius clodius.  And again, to no avail.  The time I spent in the alpine meadows favored by this species were either cloudy when I got there, too windy for anything to be flying, or too cold for butterflies — one morning I even had sleet!

To be sure, my heart beat a little faster every time I saw that diagnostic black-and-white checkered pattern floating down a meadow path or over an alpine summit.  But each time, it turned out to be a pierid.

Western White was flying in good numbers in most of the mountain environments I visited in Utah.  The dark charcoal wing margins distinguish if from Checkered White, which was also flying in the same habitats.  And BOTH fool you for a second into thinking they might be parnassians. [2015 JUL 6, Mirror Lake Road UT]

Western White was flying in good numbers in most of the mountain environments I visited in Utah. The dark charcoal wing margins distinguish it from Checkered White, which was also flying in the same habitats. And BOTH fool you for a second into thinking they might be parnassians. [2015 JUL 6, Mirror Lake Road UT]

The lighter gray of Checkered White, this one from Antelope Island State Park [2015 JUL 8, photo by REB]

The lighter gray of Checkered White, this one from Antelope Island State Park [2015 JUL 8, photo by REB]

After many false starts over several days, I was on my last full day of butterlying and had just checked out a Western Swallowtail that had hunkered down in the face of an oncoming downpour.  On the way back to the car, I saw that tell-tale checkered pattern again, but having been fooled a dozen times already I didn’t get too excited.  Until it landed and I got a good look:  Clodius.

Nemesis no more!  Clodius Parnassian on the Alpine Loop in UT.  [2015 JUL 9, photo by REB]

Nemesis no more! Clodius Parnassian on the Alpine Loop in UT. [2015 JUL 9, photo by REB]

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3 Responses to I, Clodius

  1. Matt Orsie says:

    Rick,
    Finally seeing a long, sought after species is among the most satisfying feelings for birders and lepsters. Now, your next nemesis is out there waiting😀

    • Rick says:

      It’s name is Ruff.

      Spent long, deerfly-filled hours at Bombay Hook yesterday in search once more for this mythical beast, to no avail.

  2. bluebrightly says:

    I’m enjoying your blog, which I found via an image search for this butterfly. We moved from NYC to the Seattle area 4 yrs ago and I saw my first (actually four or five) Clodius Parnassians today, up on a trail near Snoqualmie Pass. Lovely! Not many butterflies here compared to the east coast, but I’m a generalist, the botanizing is fun, and of course the scenery is amazing. We were just remarking as we drove up to the Pass, how little traffic there was today, compared to what it would look like getting out of any of the major east coast cities on a summer Saturday mornibng. Hope you can keep cool this week! Happy birding, botanizing, and “lepping.”

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