The Papilio indra complex in Utah    

Todd L. Stout

(Updated October, 2005)  


       Previous lepidoptera publications describing the Papilio indra complex have labeled it as rare, fragile(1), isolated, and so forth. For example, William H. Howe describes it as follows: "The Papilio indra complex shows a considerable degree of geographic variation, especially in the southern parts of its range. Throughout its range the species is generally uncommon and specimens are rare in collections.(2)" Clifford D. Ferris and F. Martin Brown add, "Because of its isolated habitats, indra is poorly represented in collections.(3)" Furthermore, according to John Adams Comstock, speaking of P. indra indra in Calif, "is one of our rare species, occurring in the higher altitudes of the Sierras...It is a difficult butterfly to capture, being rapid and erratic in flight.(4)" (Italics added.)

       But today, because of work by researchers and by many collectors who have become impassioned with this butterfly, we know that it is not only more common than previously perceived, but also, it is well represented in some collections. In fact, according to Col. C.F. Gillette(5), P. indra has been recorded in every county in Utah save four; Sanpete, Iron, Wasatch, and Piute.

       The Papilio indra complex in Utah flies in a variety of habitats from desert swells, reefs, and limestone hills to the tops of the Wasatch Mountains. In fact, the butterfly has even been seen crossing valley floors between mountain ranges! It is true that indra does fly in some hostile environments. Its population numbers have been known to fluctuate drastically from year to year depending upon climate (precipitation) and parasitism.  One of the population stabilizing mechanisms of indra is the fact that their pupae can prolong diapause (hibernation) for several years in order to insulate against harsh or unfavorable conditions.

        One of the attributes that gives indra such an appeal to some collectors is its beauty coupled with its geographic variation. The indra swallowtail's geographic variation is peculiar in the effect that colonies which fly in moist montane habitat such as P. indra indra seem to show much less individual variation than do colonies from the desert or from a semi-arid origin such as P. indra calcicola or P. indra minori. The same phenomenon also seems to occur in California as montane colonies of P. indra pergamus and P. indra indra show a lower degree of individual variability as compared to the desert races of P. indra fordi and P. indra martini.

        Utah currently has four varieties of indra; three named subspecies which include the typical race, minori, calcicola, and one soon-to-be named subspecies bonnevillensis.  Unlike like its cousins from the machaon group, Papilio indra adults are not sexually dimorphic. In many Utah habitats, excepting most colonies of P. indra minori and P. indra calcicola, indra flies sympatric with Papilio zelicaon; the former usually flying 7 to 10 days after the latter. The two species also share many of the same larval foodplants. However, P. zelicaon generally has a broader range of foodplants as compared to  P. indra.

        Although difficult and time-consuming, many collectors have been able to obtain attractive series of the different varieties of indra through rearing its caterpillars. One of the difficulties of raising indra in the lab is the few species of plants--usually in the Lomatium and Cymopterus genera--which the caterpillars will accept. Obtaining these specific plants many times requires long distance travel. Another problem with raising indra in the lab, which can be overcome through practices later discussed in this publication, is their high susceptibility to microbial death. The two most common varieties of microbes that kill indra immatures are viruses and bacteria.

        Others have obtained a decent series of some races of P. indra by collecting adults on the wing. Although John Adams Comstock describes this butterfly as being difficult to capture and erratic in flight, a little patience can overcome this obstacle through observation. In other words, males oftentimes will repeat their "erratic" courses as they fly similar aerial routes and land generally in the same spots. By predicting this repetitious behavior, and then moving to advantageous spots, specimens can be netted more easily. Some higher altitude males of P. indra indra exhibit this repetitive flying behavior, and have even been known to pause from their aerial stunts in order to land and bask on snow banks! (I.e. Bountiful Peak, Davis County, Utah.)

        Females, on the other hand, are much easier to capture as they more casually flitter in the vicinity of their larval hostplants. (The only exception to this is females of P. indra minori which tend to traverse their habitat in search of larval hostplant with much more haste.)

          (For more information on the distribution, habitat, larval host plants, subspecies, of the entire Papilio indra complex in the Western United States, please see Wayne Whaley’s outstanding and thorough research paper.)

1.   P. i. indra 4th instar on L. graveolens from Davis County, UT.

2.  P. i. minori 4th instar on C. terebinthinus Grand County, UT.

3.  P. i. bonnevillensis 5th instar on L. grayi var. depauperatum, Juab County, UT.

4.  P. i. indra 5th instar on L. grayi var “grayi,” Cache County, UT.

5.  P. i. minori 5th instar on L. junceum from Emery County, UT.


Papilio indra indra


        The Type Locality of P. indra indra is vicinity of Empire, Clear Creek County, Colorado; Reakirt 1866. It is the shortest tailed race; some individuals exhibiting nothing more than a "stub." The nominate race is univoltine. The flight period in Utah varies depending upon elevation, snowfall, and larval hostplant.  In the Bear River Mountains where P. indra indra utilizes mainly Cymopterus terebinthinus between the elevations of 5000' to 7000,' indra flies from mid-May to late July.

        On the other hand, higher up in the Wasatch Mountains, where the larval hostplant (L. graveolens) grows at around 8,000' to 10,000', the flight period varies from around mid June to early September.

Utah Distribution and Habitat:

        As discussed previously, the montane habitat of P. indra indra includes the Wasatch, Oquirrh, Stansbury, Bear River, and Uinta Mountain Ranges. Higher altitude males patrol and perch all day in search of females. Some of these males have been known to descend several thousand feet to canyon floors to nectar near rivers. (I.e, Provo Canyon, Utah County, and Big Cottonwood and Millcreek Canyons, Salt Lake County.)


      As stated earlier, the principal larval foodplant for P. indra indra in the Wasatch Mountains is Lomatium graveolens, and the larval foodplant in the Bear River Mountains is Lomatium grayi var. grayi (milfoil lomatium) and Cymopterus terebinthinus.

       The ova is yellow-green and is laid principally on healthy plants' peripheral ventral stalks. After a day or so, the ova develops rings and then turns black before hatching. From the time an egg is laid to the time it hatches is roughly six days in nature and five days in the lab. (Assuming room temperature.)

       The young first instar larva is black with a thin, white saddle.  (Sometimes new hatchlings can have a silverish appearance before turning black.)  As the larva moults into later instars, small white and yellow-orange speckles appear. Larvae of P. indra are much more timid than those of P. zelicaon.  The mature larva varies from black with off-white stripes to nearly all black with small yellow-orange dots. Hibernation is as pupa. For some reason, most lab-reared pupae emerge after two years of winter.  ( Some pupae have been known to diapause for up to three to four years.)

Papilio indra minori


       The Type Locality of P. indra minori is Black Ridge Breaks, Mesa County, Colorado; Cross 1936. Minori is one of the most beautiful races of P. indra. Its large size with long tails combined with thin to intermittent cream bands and generous blue dorsal hindwing scales are diagnostic. Adults display a significant amount of individual variation. The bands on some individuals of minori are completely obsolete; showing the phenotype of what essentially is a black and blue swallowtail. It is the opinion of the author that this form kaibabensis which most authorities treat as a distinct subspecies really is a genetic drift morph of minori for two reasons. First, the kaibabensis form appears at least seldomly in mostly all minori populations. Again, its just an example of individual variation. Second, the habitat and bionomics of the two taxa are virtually indistinguishable.

       Males hilltop on the tops of reefs, buttes, or even sheer peaks in search of females. In fact, minori males have shown intense aerial battles against one another in competition for females. Females, on the other hand, oftentimes fly in lower portions of buttes, or even in desert floors or swells in search of its larval hostplant. (Females only hilltop once to mate.) It is multivoltine depending upon rainfall; with up to three broods per year.

Utah Distribution and Habitat:

       The distribution of minori in Utah is extensive. According to W.H. Whaley(6), over 50 distinct colonies can be found over Central to South-Southeastern Utah badlands. This distribution includes, but is not limited to, the West Tavaputs Plateau, Cedar Mountain, San Rafael Swell, San Rafael Reef, Capitol Reef National Monument, Henry Mountains, Cockscomb Ridge, La Sal Mountains, Abajo Mountains, and Monument Valley south to Northern Arizona.


       The larval hostplants of minori differ depending upon venue. In the San Rafael Swell, Cedar Mountain, San Rafael Reef, Capitol Reef National Monument areas, larvae utilize Lomatium junceum (rush lomatium.) At the Cockscomb Ridge, Monument Valley, and Abajo Mts, larvae use Lomatium parryi (parry desert parsley.) Also at Monument Valley and areas adjacent to Moab, larvae use Cymopterus terebinthinus (rock springparsley.) All of these larval hostplants are unique because they, for the most part depending upon rainfall, stay green and healthy from spring until fall; which accounts for the butterfly's ability to have multiple generations in one year.

       The ova is yellow-green; developing rings and then turning black before hatching. The young larva is black with a white saddle. It is interesting to note that young minori larvae have a broader white saddle than young indra indra larvae have. The large mature larva is gorgeously arrayed with bright pink and black stripes strewn with orange dots. Immatures, unfortunately, are heavily subjected to several varieties of parasites. Egg parasites have recently been discovered in addition to the ever-so-prevalent small wasp parasites that kill third instar larvae and maggot parasites that kill fifth instar larvae. Hibernation is as pupa.  


Papilio indra calcicola


        P. indra calcicola recently was described from Southern Nevada.   Colonies of this butterfly in the State used to be referred to as as P. indra nevadensis or P. indra nr. nevadensis.  It is a long tailed race of indra.  Amongst all the subspecies of indra in Utah, calcicola shows the most drastic example of individual variation with specimens looking like fordi, martini, panamintensis, and even pergamus. P. indra calcicola, for the most part, is univoltine with less than 1 percent of lab-reared pupae emerging during the same year. Adults of this  Swallowtail fly early in the year; from mid to late March to mid-May.

Utah Distribution and Habitat:

       The distribution of P. i. calcicola in Utah is restricted to Washington County.   Among other habitats, the butterfly is most easily encountered in Navajo sandstone hill country North and Northeast of St. George. It is also found in the Beaver Dam Mountains, Leeds Canyon and rumored to fly in the Pine Valley Mountains as well. One type of habitat where calcicola seems to be less common is the Lava Ridges because of the rarity of its larval hostplants there.


        P. i. calcicola immatures utilize two species of Lomatium in Washington County. In the vicinity of St. George, Lomatium scabrum (cliff lomatium) is the larval hostplant.  Leaflets of L. scabrum burn off by mid to late May; which accounts for its one brood. However, leaflets of Lomatium parryi, which is its foodplant in the Leeds Canyon area, do not burn off until the fall. As such, it is plausible that calcicola could at least have a partial second brood in the vicinity of Leeds Canyon. Admittedly, more research needs to be done in this area.

       Under typical conditions, females will only lay on healthier L. scabrum plants located between rocks or at the base of desert washes because these plants will thrive long enough to support the larva to maturity. However, in certain years, when population numbers are extremely high, it is interesting to note that females sometimes will oviposit on plants that cannot support the larva to maturity. Some Navajo Sandstone hills North of St. George do not have Lomatium scabrum on them except for North-facing washes and slopes. These hostplants survive well there for two reasons: First, these washes and slopes accumulate more moisture and can support the roots of these plants. Second, plants in this area receive less direct desert sunlight as compared to south, east and west facing slopes.  

       The mature larva is similar to P. indra minori and is striped with bright pink-peach and black bands with yellow-orange spots. The pupa is salmon in color and camouflages well against Navajo Sandstone. As is true with all subspecies of indra, hibernation is as pupa.  See below.    

Papilio indra calcicola pupa. Papilio indra calcicola female ovipositing on host Lomatium scabrum in a cage

Papilio indra bonnevillensis


       Currently, P. i. bonnevillensis is being named and described as a subspecies by Dr. Wayne H. Whaley(7)—in press. This butterfly was originally noticed but undescribed by Col. C.F. Gillette(8) prior to 1986.  In 2000, this race was unofficially designated by Whaley as "nigricampe" or even "West Desert indra" by local collectors.

        P. i. bonnevillensis is short to medium tailed, and has one flight per year. The strength of the flight varies depending upon winter precipitation. At 5000', bonnevillensis generally flies from mid to late April through to mid to late May.   The presenter of this paper agrees with Wayne Whaley in describing this race as a valid subspecies for the following reasons: First, bonnevillensis is geographically isolated from calcicola. Second, calcicola hardly ever have short-tailed morphs; bonnevillensis does. Third, over a long series, bonnevillensis has consistently more blue in the dorsal hindwings as compared to calcicola. Fourth, some bonnevillensis females exhibit extremely wide dorsal forewing bands that rival the width of specimens of P. indra fordi. Fifth, calcicola documented larval hostplant Lomatium scabrum grows where bonnevillensis flies. However, to date, bonnevillensis immatures have not been found using L. scabrum. Sixth, mature larvae of bonnevillensis are drastically different to Washington County calcicola; but can be quite similar to Northern Utah P. indra indra.

Utah Distribution and Habitat:

       Colonies of P. i. bonnevillensis exist in many North-South ranges in Utah's West Desert including but not limited to the Dugway Range, Thomas Range, Fish Springs Range, House Range, Confusion Range, and Little Drum Mountains. All of these mountain ranges contain Limestone and exist in the vicinity of what was Lake Bonneville. These limestone hills is where the larval hostplant grows. 


       The larval hostplant is Lomatium grayi var. “depauperatum.”  This plant seems to die off faster than any other host of indra. A first instar larva has perhaps one of the most slender white saddles as compared to other subspecies of indra. As the larva matures, this saddle has been known to disappear altogether. Third instar larvae of bonnevillensis change their resting position to the base of the hostplant where they are difficult to find. The mature larva has two basic forms from mostly black with tiny yellow dots to black with medium cream bands. (As a matter of fact, the previous name nigricampe means black caterpillar(9)—.)   

Papilio indra bonnevillensis pupa just before eclosion.


Hint #1

Females prefer to oviposit on the underside of short--sometimes very short--stalks or leaflets along the periphery of the larval host plant; basically belonging to the genera Lomatium or Cymopterus.  Many times these short, peripheral stalks point tangentially away from the general direction of the rest of the stalks on the plant.

Hint #2

Many plant species in these two genera are rock formation or soil specific.  For example, in order to find any larval host plant for Papilio indra minori, it is first necessary to find the appropriate type of Moenkopi Shale, Chinle, or Navajo Sandstone.

Hint #3

As indra immatures grow, they change their preferred resting places.

Ova through third instar:

Look first for where an egg is most likely to be have been laid. (See Hint #1.)  If an empty eggshell is found, then look nearby for indra chew marks.  Young indra larval chew marks show a unique skeletonizing effect on the leaflet, and can assure you that either a young larva either is, or recently was on the host plant.  If chewmarks are found, turn over that leaf.  If the larva is not in sight, one of two possibilities exist:  Either it has died, or it has grown and become at least a third instar, and has changed its preferred resting position.  Note: Third instar is the phase when an indra larva most drastically changes its resting preference.  

Papilio indra calcicola first instar larval chew marks show a unique skeletonizing effect on the leaflet.

Third and Fourth instar:

As stated earlier, third instar larvae move away from the periphery of the food plant.  They then prefer to rest on the bottom one-fifth portion of more centralized stalks of the host plant.  Finding them can be difficult; even for experienced collectors!  At this point, a technique of getting on your hands and knees and patiently sifting through every stalk is required.   Sometimes this sifting can become a long and tedious task.  However, patience and skill usually will enable you to find the larva.  As larvae grow and become fourth instar, looking again for chew marks and even frass can be helpful.  Instead of seeking out the peculiar skeletonizing chew marks of a first or second instar, look for stalks with entire leaflets missing and stalks chewed down.  Also, using tweezers is especially critical while seeking out third and fourth instars as larvae fall off of the plant when disturbed.

Fifth instar:

When a fourth instar moults into its final stage, it may, for a day or so, maintain a rest position similar to that of a typical third or fourth instar; on a center stalk at the base of the plant. However, fifth instars also may leave the plant altogether and rest on the dirt, in a shallow crevice, or on a rock adjacent to the host plant. During this stage, fifth instars can be equally as difficult to find as third or fourth instars, or they can be surprisingly easy to encounter.

Examples of fifth instar indra larvae that can be easy or very difficult to find.  The figure on the left shows a P. indra bonnevillensis last instar larva on Lomatium grayi that, obviously, is very conspicuous.   Can you find the P. indra calcicola fifth instar larva resting adjacent to the Lomatium scabrum plant in the figure on the right?  Click here or on the photo for closeup shot of that larva. 

Hint #4

Seek out large, healthy, and lush host plants within a colony. Females prefer to oviposit on healthy host plants because it increases the chance that the larva will thrive and pupate. (Obviously, female oviposition preference is an instinctive process; not a cognitive one.) These plants are healthy because of their root systems. Host plants with unusually healthy root systems are such because of two reasons: First, they received more water; second, they are more protected from direct sunlight as compared to other individual plants. Healthy host plants are most commonly manifested as plants situated between rocks, plants located in desert washes or at the base of a desert wash protected from the sun by a rock cliff, or plants on mountain slopes which receive more hours of shade than do other individual host plants. Other host plants which thrive; but not necessarily due to healthy root systems, are plants that have been pruned. By pruning plants in the summer or fall, whether it be by livestock or by collectors creating egg traps, new growing stalks thrive because they are not impeded by the previous year's dead stalks.

Hint #5

Look for isolated host plants within a colony. Many times, if the colony is large and host plants for Papilio indra are plentiful, finding larvae by looking on all of the healthy host plants can still be monotonous. In order to alleviate this problem, it is best to seek out small pockets within the colony where host plants are more scarce. With fewer host plants to lay on, it is more likely that a larva would be found on any given plant within the pocket.

Hint #6

Examine the peripheral plants in a colony. An experienced collector oftentimes will map out where the host plants start and where they stop in order to assess the host plant's distribution boundary. With females flying in and out of the boundaries of the distribution of the larval host plant, many times plants scattered along this periphery are visited much more often than are similar plants located in the interior of the colony.

Hint #7

Most of the time, from generation to generation, or from year to year, P. indra females tend to oviposit on the same individual plants. Therefore, if your collecting needs requires repeated visits over a few years, first investigate individual plants that you know have yielded immatures on previous visits.

Hint #8

Bring tweezers. As briefly discussed earlier, indra larvae can fall off the host plant with the slightest disturbance. (Always use your hand to secure the larva in the event that it falls as you pull the stalk.)

Distance shot (above) and closeup (right) of P. indra minori host Lomatium junceum taken in Emery County, UT.  Note arrow indicating minori ova in lower right portion of closeup photo.




There are basically three methods available to accomplish the successful rearing of P. indra caterpillars in the lab.  They are the open aquarium method, the closed container method, and the potted plant method.  Advantages and disadvantages of all three methods will be discussed hereafter.

Whether to rear P. indra in a closed container or in an open aquarium basically is a function of how many larvae you have.   If you are planning on rearing more than just a few caterpillars, it is recommended that you use the open aquarium method.  If you have only a few caterpillars, you might want to try the closed container method.  Because of the initial setup time, it seems to make sense that you should use the open aquarium method only if you have enough immatures to justify that step.  

Why Larvae Get Sick:

The two main airborne microorganisms that can aggressively infect and kill any lepidoptera larvae--including P. indra--are viruses and bacteria.  Larvae of P. indra can be prone to getting sick using either the open aquarium method or the closed container method as well as the mismanagement of the lab hostplant.

Microbial death is most commonly seen because of three factors which are feeding larvae old foodplant, overexposing them to their own frass--see tip #2 below, or exposing them to containers that have not been properly sanitized.  It is true that viruses and bacteria thrive and spread much more in a closed container type of environment.  However, even larvae in an open aquarium environment can get sick for these same reasons. 

Proper Handling of Lab Hostplant:

As you plan on rearing indra, think through well in advance when and how you are going to obtain your supply of larval hostplant.  It is profitless to collect indra immatures without a foreknowledge and a commitment of how you are going to get enough hostplant on subsequent visits to get your larvae through to pupation.  

If you are planning on pulling stalks of hostplant and bagging it an airtight garbage bag in your refrigerator, you will need to obtain fresh supply, on the average, every seven days.  This is critical since the plant will usually appear to "look" just fine for probably much longer.  The problem is that collectors oftentimes will rationalize and continue to feed their caterpillars 10-day or 14-day old plant because of its visible characteristics, and then are bewildered as to why their caterpillars are getting sick.  Again, bagged hostplant, which is over one week old causes more problems than it is worth.  Just throw it away.  (Remember to refrigerate freshly-cut host plant as quickly as possible and keep it airtight in the refrigerator.)

Recently, a few collectors, including Dr. Whaley, has devised a system(10) of hostplant management that keeps refrigerated hostplant useable for much longer than a week--up to 17 days.  That system entails the gentle pulling, one by one, of stalks of hostplant out in the field, and then placing these stalks in a bucket of shallow water.  When returning back to the lab, it is then necessary to place the entire bucket with bags placed around the hostplant into the refrigerator.  Obviously, this is a better system than bagging the plant if obtaining the plant requires long distance travel.

The Open Aquarium Method:  

The open aquarium method probably has been the most popular method for those rearing P. indra.  Although the initial setup time for the open aquarium method can be somewhat arduous, it is easily justified by the fact that larval hostplant can stay fresh and useable for as long as 4 to 6 days before you need to change it out again.  Another advantage of this method, in addition to its aesthetic appeal, is the fact that larval frass dries up on the bottom of the terrarium and doesn't pose much of a threat of contaminating larvae to viruses and bacteria.  

One important thing to remember as you place stalks of LFP into these narrow neck bottles of water is that you need to place them in a tight enough fashion as to not allow fourth and fifth instar caterpillar frass to fall into the water.  It is possible that stalks of plant sucking up water that has been contaminated with frass can cause larvae to get sick.  It certainly is a situation to avoid.

As younger instars become fourth and fifth instars, the open aquarium method can become somewhat more difficult to manage for two reasons:  The first reason is that larger larvae consume the plant at a much higher rate possibly requiring you to change out bottles with fresh plant more frequently than you did when you were dealing with younger instars.  You will also need to take that into consideration as you properly separate out your larvae.  

The second reason is that mature larvae always purge before wandering to pupate.  If they purge on the plant where other larvae are feeding, the obvious problem is that you need to remove the contaminated stalks with fresh ones.  (An alternative to this problem will be addressed below.)

Variant to the "Open Aquarium Method."  The necks of the water bottles containing LFP pass through the drilled holes in the white wooden base so that the plants remain at the same level as the bottom of the cage.  This allows late instar caterpillars who prefer to rest at the base of the plant or off the plant completely to more easily return to the plant without having to contend with the climbing of glass or plastic bottles.   


The Closed Container Method:

The bottom line with the closed container method is that if you only have a few larvae and are willing to dedicate 1 minute per caterpillar per day, in spraying down containers (with disinfectant) and removing hostplant, etc., then the closed container method might be for you.

Although not as aesthetically appealing as the open aquarium or potted plant methods, the closed container method is much easier because it requires virtually no setup time.  The drawback with the closed container method is that it does require that you spend time taking care of your caterpillars on a daily basis.

Another advantage the closed container method; one that, for some, justifies the extra time it requires, is the fact that the status of microbial contamination in any given container is independent to that of any other container.   Let's assume that you closely adhere to the tips below, and, although unlikely, one caterpillar and later the remaining two or three caterpillars in that container became infected with a virus and died.  That misfortune would have no bearing on the health of all the rest of your caterpillars because their environmental conditions are isolated from one another.  

Contrast this to the "open aquarium method." If one larva somehow became infected and died with a vicious enough strain of virus or bacteria, not only is there a chance that every larva in that aquarium will eventually get sick and die, but also, the same fate might happen to all the rest of your larvae in other terrariums in your lab. Unfortunately, this catastrophic dominos effect has been known to happen although they have been rare.

Another advantage of the closed container method, especially for mature last instars, is realized when you isolate and place only 1 large caterpillar into a medium-sized closed container with a few sprigs of hostplant.  Why is this advantageous?  Let's say, as you provide your daily caterpillar processing, you find that it has purged.  The clear advantage here is that, with this closed container setup, you will then be able to remove the larva into a pupation setup and sanitize the container and be done with it.

Contrast this to the "open aquarium method."  Let's say you have a terrarium with 15 fifth instars. Furthermore, let's assume that you find three separate purges--some on stalks and some on the floor of the terrarium while finding five fifth instars completely off the plant.  Not only is it a hassle to clean up the terrarium and replace the "purged" stalks of food plant with clean stalks, but also you will need to figure out, sometimes by trial and error, which larvae had purged and which were just resting off of the plant.  This scenario has been known to happen and can definitely be problematic--especially if it happens more than once a day, which is likely if you have enough mature larvae.   (On the other hand, sometimes larvae that have purged will wander around the terrarium at great speed; but that trait isn't always a given.)  

Even if you use the open aquarium method, you still might want to consider removing your "soon-to-purge" fifth instars into isolated containers in order to avoid the hassles stated above.   The extra "1 minute per day per larva" added attention you give these fifth instars will more than make up for the potential hassles already discussed.

Tips on using the closed container method:

Tip #1

If your lab foodplant is one other than a documented larval foodplant for your subspecies of P. indra, first make sure that your larvae will accept that variety of plant. (If you are rearing indra larvae from Utah, consult the Utah Papilio indra subspecies and larval foodplant matrix diagram .)

Tip #2

For rearing indra caterpillars in closed containers, carefully adhere to the following procedures:

Morning procedure:

A. Clean out all of the frass and marginal plant sprigs, and eliminate all moisture with clean paper towel.

Evening procedure:

A. Remove all larvae from foodplant. Remove all plant sprigs and frass with clean paper towel and dispose.

B. Spray down the empty container and lid with Lysol or any other suitable quat or phenolic aeresol disinfectant  for 3 seconds or until wet from a distance of about 12 inches. Let the container and lid sit for 30 seconds, and then wipe down with a clean paper towel. (This sanitizes your container.)

C. Replace empty dry container with fresh sprigs (without roots) and put larvae back in container and seal lid.   Only place just enough fresh plant in your container to sustain your few larvae for 24 hours. Placing more foodplant than is necessary risks condensation in the container; which may result in microbial contamination even if you follow the previous steps. (Note: if your foodplant has obtained moisture from the refrigerator, let it air dry before using it.)

D. Repeat procedure every 24 hours. This is critical for P. indra. It only takes 26 days or so to get young first instar larvae to pupae. By making these sacrifices for this short period of time, you greatly enhance your chances of ending up with reared adults.

Tip #3

Keep indra larvae separated!! As stated earlier, one of the biggest enemies in killing larvae is their own frass. By overcrowding your closed container, you risk contamination--even if you clean it daily!  For a standard 2.2 Quart Rubbermaid container adhere to the following:  

Closed Container Method setup for a "soon-to-purge" fifth instar P. indra minori caterpillar:

Since mature larvae consume roughly three sprigs per day, it is advantageous to only place what sprigs the larva would consume in a 12 hour period--which is the timeframe in between your morning and evening procedure--in order to avoid condensation in the container and keep frass as dry as possible.

The Gizmo:  A pupation/emergence setup for P. indra:

Take a toilet tissue core and [vertically] cut in half.  Take a 4" by 4" square of paper towel and fasten around the top of core with rubber band.  Place larva that has already purged into gizmo--see lower left figure.  Turn gizmo around so that larva cannot escape and place in a dark area--see lower figure second from the right.  Upon pupation, place pupa into emergence container--see figure lower right.  (Gizmo design courtesy Bruce Dolen.)


The Potted Plant Method:

A third alternative is the potted plant method.  As shown on Dr. Whaley's webpage, having potted hostplant can have several advantages including a nice setup for getting females to oviposit.  This setup can also be advantageous for rearing a low number of caterpillars where suitable hostplant is remote.  Obviously, with this method, worries about changing hostplant, larval sickness, etc are taken out of play.  Note:  Be sure to put a screen or netting around hostplant so that larvae cannot escape.

The best way to setup this method is to grow Lomatium and Cymopterus spp. from seed.  The best time to harvest seeds is roughly one to two months after the plant has gone to flower.   


Matrix of Papilio indra Subspecies vs. Documented Larval Foodplants and Suitable Lab Substitutes in Utah


P. indra indra

P. indra minori

P. indra calcicola

P. indra bonnevillensis

Lomatium grayi var. “grayi”





L. grayi var. depauperatum





Lomatium junceum





Lomatium graveolens





Lomatium parryi




Later instars only

Lomatium scabrum





Cymopterus terebinthinus





dLF==Documented Larval Foodplant.

YES==Suitable Lab Foodplannt.  (Produces Adults)  

NO==Not Suitable Lab Foodplant.


*  Larvae accept L. grayi grayi in the lab; but pupae seldom emerge as healthy adults.  


1. Emmel, Thomas C. and Emmel, John F. 1973. The Butterflies of Southern California p. 12.

2. Howe, William H. 1975. The Butterflies of North America p. 396.

3. Ferris, Clifford D. and Brown, F. Martin 1981. Butterflies of the Rocky Mountain States p. 184.

4. Comstock, John Adams. 1927. The Butterflies of California. p. 21.

5. Gillette, C.F. Col. Utahensis: Journal of the Utah Lepidopterists' Society 1984 4•2, p. 34.

6. Whaley, W.H. Personal Communication. 17 Jul 1996.

7. Whaley, W.H. Personal Communication.  Aug, 1999.

8. Gillette, C.F. Col. Personal Communication. 5 Jul 1996.

9. Whaley, W.H. ibid.

10. Whaley, W.H. Personal Communication. 30 May 2004.


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