N A T U R K U N D L I C H E S   I N F O R M A T I O N S S Y S T E M

Hypermnestra helios (Nickerl, 1846)

(zoological nomenclature: valid name, available)

General information:

Ismene helios Nickerl, 1846: 208, pl. [3], fig. A-D.
Type locality: western Kirghizia
Type: ? in coll. National Museum, Prague

Synonyms, misspellings, wrong determinations, etc.:
Doritis ismene Herrich-Schäffer, 1851: 35. Junior subjective synonym of Hypermnestra helios helios (Nickerl, 1846).
Hypermnestra helios var. maxima Grum-Grshimailo, 1890: 141. Type locality: Uzbekistan. Junior subjective synonym of Hypermnestra helios helios (Nickerl, 1846).
Parnassius balucha Moore, 1906: 47. Type locality: Pakistan, Baluchistan. Subspecies.
Hypermnestra helios var. persica Neuburger, 1900. Type locality: northern Iran. preoccupied; see Sheljuzhko, 1956.
Hypermnestra helios hyrcana Sheljuzhko, 1956. Type locality: northern Iran. Junior subjective synonym of Hypermnestra helios balucha Moore, 1906.
Hypermnestra helios bushirica Bang-Haas, 1938. Type locality: southern Iran. Junior subjective synonym of Hypermnestra helios balucha Moore, 1906.
Hypermnestra helios ariana Wyatt, 1961. Type locality: Afghanistan, Bamian. Junior subjective synonym of Hypermnestra helios balucha Moore, 1906.

Desert Apollo


H. helios helios : Kazakhstan, Alma-Atinsky region, 40 km N from Bakanas, 2010.05.09, coll. Michael Kurz H. helios helios underside: Kazakhstan, Alma-Atinsky region, 40 km N from Bakanas, 2010.05.09, coll. Michael Kurz    
Picture from: Kurz Michael
Detailed view
Picture from: Kurz Michael
Detailed view

Description of adults (Bingham 1907, based on ssp. balucha from Pakistan and Persia): Wing expanse: 52 - 66 m. ". Upperside: white, with a slight cream-yellow tint. Forewing: base densely, costal margin lightly, irrorated with black scales; cell with a transverse black median and a black apical spot, the latter extends from the costa along the discocellulars almost to the lower apex of cell; beyond the cell an oblique, short black bar, widened posteriorly and with three superposed red spots, the middle spot minute, sometimes absent; this is followed by an irregular subterminal black band, widened at the veins, widest near the costa, and gradually narrowed to a faint line posteriorly. In many specimens this band is not extended below vein 5, in others it reaches or almost reaches the tornal angle and is joined in its extension downwards to a prominent black transverse spot in interspace 3. Beyond this band the apex is marked with a small diffuse black patch, and the apices of the veins with black spots that are extended inwards to the subterrninal band. Hind wing: base and dorsal margin broadly irrorated with black scales: a black upper discal and a subcostal spot, both generally centred with red; a subterminal series of slender black lunules, followed by a terminal row of transversely linear black spots; the middle and postdiscal areas of the wing darkened by the markings of the underside that show through by transparency. Cilia of both fore and hind wings white alternated with black. Underside: ground-colour similar. Fore wing: markings as on the upperside, but the cellular spots, the spot in interspace 3 and the short bar beyond apex of cell larger, more intensely black, the red spots on the last also larger; the subterminal and terminal markings paler, more diffuse. Hind wing with basal, median and subterminal broad transverse band of irrorated black scales, all the bands with their margins uneven and zigzag; the outer margin of the basal band with four transversely placed red spots, and transverse red discal spots edged with black in interspaces 1, 2, 5 and 7; the termen margined with a fine, more or less interrupted, black line. In a few specimens the red spots are more or less obsolescent. Antennae pale yellowish white, the shafts obscurely ringed with black. head, thorax and abdomen black, the head and the thorax anteriorly with long greyish-white hairs; beneath: the palpi, thorax, legs and basal portion of the abdomen similarly clothed. - . Differs from the as follows: Upperside: all the markings larger and more conspicuous; an additional large black spot in the middle of interspace 1. Underside: similar to that of the , but with the additional black spot as noted above."


The typical subspecies H. helios helios is distributed in Kirghizia, Tadjikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and south-western Kazakhstan (Tshikolovets 1998). Subspecies H. helios balucha ranges from Iran and Afghanistan to Pakistan (Nazari 2006, Nazari & Sperling 2007). Exact data about vertical distribution are not available, but H. helios is said to be more a lowland species (Nazari 2006).


H. helios inhabits steppes and semi-deserts.

Stages in development:

Larva Pupa, ventral aspect Pupa, dorsal aspect  
Picture from: Le Cerf 1913
Detailed view
Picture from: Le Cerf 1913
Detailed view
Picture from: Le Cerf 1913
Detailed view

Larva (Bingham 1907): "This is 38 mm in length, cylindrical, of a pale yellowish-white colour, with four longitudinal rows, two medial and one lateral on each side, of rather large yellow spots; the head is a darker yellow, and each of the succeeding segments bears a transverse series of small black spots, the middle two round and sharply defined, the others irregular, some minute and mere dots, others slightly elongate; each transverse row ends on either side with a spot above the spiracles." The larvae feed on several species of Zygophyllum. Known foodplants are: Z. atriplicoides, Z. gontsharovi, Z. portulacoides, Z. fabago, Z. turcomanicum, Z. oxianum and Z. macrophyllum (Le Cerf 1913, Tshikolovets 1998). Furthermore, Kreuzberg (1984) also reports Halimiphyllum of the same family as foodplant. Pupation takes places in the soil, where the larva spins a loose silken web.

Detailed descriptions of all stages are furthermore provided by Le Cerf (1913) and Igarashi (1984).


-genitalia: without data      
Picture from: Le Cerf 1913
Detailed view

Genitalia. Tegumen large, uncus bifurcate; valve short and very broad; aedeagus slender, with some teeth at its tip, which are less well developed in ssp. balucha.


H. helios helios : Kazakhstan, Alma-Atinsky region, 40 km N from Bakanas, 2010.05.09, coll. Michael Kurz Z. (A.) caucasica : Abkhazia, Adisary, Kintrish, 1981.04.11, leg. Danilevsky M., coll. Michael Kurz S. montela amurensis : without data  
Picture from: Kurz Michael
Detailed view
Picture from: Kurz Michael
Detailed view
Picture from: wikimedia commons: Notafly (creative commons)
Detailed view

The species is unmistakable, although there is some overal similarity to some species of Zerynthia (Allancastria) Bryk, 1934 or to the long tailed, eastern palaearctic Sericinus montela (Gray, 1852). In the male genitalia, H. helios is characterized mainly by the short and broad valves.


Studies of the mitochondrial DNA by Nazari & Sperling (2007) have shown, that there are two distinct populations: The typical subspecies H. helios helios, including the form maxima is an element of the Turanian region in central Asia, whereas the other group of populations inhabits the Iranian plateau, deliminated by the Zagros mountains, Kopet-Dagh, lesser Caucasus and the Pamir mountains. Differences in the mt-DNA have been shown to be as great as 2.6 %. For the latter group, the name Parnassius balucha Moore, 1906 seems to be the oldest available name, provided that the Pakistani populations (not investigated by Nazari & Sperling 2007) are the same than that from Iran.

Worth knowing:


Bingham, C. T. 1907. Fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma. Butterflies - Vol. II. Taylor & Francis, London, 480 pp., 20 pl.
Igarashi, S. 1984. The classification of the Papilionidae mainly based on the morphology of their immature stages. Tyô to Ga 34: 41-96.
Kreuzberg, A. V. 1984. Larval foodplants of papilionids (Lepidoptera: Papilionidae) of central Asia. Byulleten Moskovskogo Obshchestva Ispytatelei Prirody Otdel Biologicheskii 89: 27-34.
Le Cerf, M. F. 1913. Contribution à la faune lépidoptérologique de la Perse (Catalogue des Rhopalocères). Annales d´Histoire Naturelle, Tome II: Entomologie 1-85.
Moore, F. 1906. Description of a new species of Parnassius. The Annals and Magazine of Natural History (7) XVIII: 47-48.
Nazari, V. 2006. Hypermnestra Ménétriés, 1846 [sic!]. Hypermnestra helios (Nickerl, 1846). Version 07 July 2006. http://tolweb.org/Hypermnestra_helios/65392/2006.07.07 in The Tree of Life Web Project, http://tolweb.org/.
Nazari, V. & F. A. H. Sperling 2007. Mitochondrial DNA divergence and phylogeography in western Palaearctic Parnassiinae (Lepidoptera: Papilionidae): How many species are there ?. Insect systematics and Evolution, 38:2, 121-138.
Nickerl, F. A. 1846. Beschreibung einer neuen Gattung und Art als Beitrag zur europäischen Lepidoptern-Fauna. Stettiner Entomologische Zeitung: 207-209, pl. [3].
Sheljuzhko, L. 1956. Über die Übertragung von Aberrationsnamen auf Subspezies. Mitteilungen der Münchener Entomologischen Gesellschaft 46: 291-303.
Tshikolovets, V. V. 1998. The Butterflies of Turkmenistan. Kyiv, Brno, 237 pp.

Publication data:

Kurz Michael: 2011.03.01
Kurz Michael: 2011.05.26
Kurz Michael: 2011.05.27
Kurz Michael: 2011.05.30
Kurz Michael: 2012.08.03
Kurz Michael: 2014.05.13
not reviewed