Papilio Maackii: The Alpine Black Swallowtail Butterfly

Papilio Maackii: The Alpine Black Swallowtail Butterfly
Table Of Content

Introduction to Papilio Maackii, the Alpine Black Swallowtail

Papilio maackii, commonly known as the Alpine black swallowtail or Maack's swallowtail, is a beautiful butterfly species belonging to the Papilionidae family. This striking black and yellow colored butterfly is known for its wide occurrence across central Asia.

With its large 4-7cm wingspan and distinct markings, Papilio maackii catches the attention of lepidopterologists, artists, collectors and nature enthusiasts alike. But what is it exactly that makes this Alpine butterfly so fascinating?

Natural Habitat and Lifecycle

Papilio maackii inhabits the mountain forests of central Asia at typically high elevations between 1600-2700 meters. The alpine climate and habitat here consists of grassy hillsides, rocky outcrops and alpine meadows filled with flowering plants.

Feeding exclusively on plants of the Apiaceae family as caterpillars, the most preferred host plant species are from the genera Seseli and Libanotis. The adult black swallowtail butterflies feed on the nectar of flowers like Rhododendron.

The Alpine black swallowtail has a typical papilionid lifecycle. Adults emerge from overwintered chrysalises in the early summer months. Females lay batches of pale green eggs on the underside of host plant leaves. The resulting caterpillars are black and yellow banded, with unique red and blue horn-like structures protruding from the upper thorax region.

Why Study and Collect Papilio Maackii Specimens?

Lepidopterists and collectors pin Papilio maackii specimens to study and showcase their distinct characteristics and coloring. The size, wing venation patterns, intricate spotting and unique red-banded abdomens help identify and differentiate them from other Papilio swallowtails.

Beyond aesthetics, scientists can glean information about the Alpine black swallowtail's taxonomy, distribution, lifecycle, feeding habits and more through collected specimens. Detailed analysis even helps track environmental and climate changes over time in its high-altitude ecosystem.

Preserving Papilio Maackii Butterflies for Collections and Study

Pinning is the specific preservation technique used for Lepidoptera like butterflies and moths, prior to which all specimens undergo similar crucial preparation steps:

  • Catching and killing
  • Setting and drying

Catching and Killing Specimens

Papilio maackii butterflies are captured live using aerial nets. The specimens must then be quickly killed to avoid damage by excess struggling. For professional preservation, ethyl acetate killing jars provide quick and humane euthanization of butterflies and moths.

Chemicals like ethyl acetate vaporize inside the sealed jars, acting as insect anesthetics. The comatose insects can then be easily transferred for the crucial setting process.

Setting Wings and Drying

Setting involves carefully positioning the butterfly's wings, antennae and other body parts using smoothed strips of paper. Setting boards and grooved foam beds allow for proper air drying to prevent warping or tearing of fragile wings.

Well set specimens are left to air dry for 1-2 weeks at consistent 45-60% relative humidity. Once completely stiff and dried, they are ready to be carefully mounted using pins and spreading boards.

Pinning Butterfly Specimens for Collections and Displays

Entomology pins hold the rigid, dried insects in lifelike poses on vertical spreading boards. The pin pierces directly behind the thorax without damaging delicate internal organs. This allows the wings to be fully spread and viewed.

Squared brass insect pins are most commonly used by professional taxidermists and collectors to mount all sizes of Lepidoptera. Pins like BioQuip's Black-Enameled Stainless Steel pins are preferred for resisting corrosion and securely holding spread specimens for decades.

Once pinned in aesthetic positions, Papilio maackii and other preserved butterflies and moths can be incorporated into framed box displays or insect collections available for research and education.

The Art and Science of Preserving Butterflies

The entire process from capturing live specimens to perfectly pinned and spread displays makes butterfly preservation both a meticulous scientific pursuit and creative artform. Each specimen tells stories of delicate biodiversity that further understanding of Lepidoptera species like the magnificent Papilio maackii.


Where is the natural habitat of the Alpine black swallowtail?

The Alpine black swallowtail inhabits high mountain elevation regions between 1600-2700 meters in central Asia. Their habitat ranges across parts of Russia, Mongolia, North Korea, North Eastern China and Japan.

What plants do Papilio maackii caterpillars feed on?

The larvae or caterpillars of the Alpine black swallowtail feed exclusively on host plants of the Apiaceae family, preferring genera like Seseli and Libanotis that commonly occur across their range.

Why is Papilio maackii sought after by collectors?

The large size, colorful patterns and unique red and blue horn-like protrusions make Papilio maackii caterpillars visually desirable for collections. Their relative rarity and habitat specificity also adds to their appeal among professional and hobby entomology collectors.

How long can preserved pinned specimens of Papilio maackii last?

Following proper preservation techniques like setting, drying and high-quality pinned mounting, Alpine black swallowtail specimens can remain in pristine lifelike condition for many decades in collections and displays.

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