Oxygen conductance to the tissues determines aerobic metabolic performance in most eukaryotes but has cost/benefit tradeoffs. Here we examine in lowland populations of a butterfly a genetic polymorphism affecting oxygen conductance via the hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) pathway, which senses intracellular oxygen and controls the development of oxygen delivery networks. Genetically distinct clades of Glanville fritillary (Melitaea cinxia) across a continental scale maintain, at intermediate frequencies, alleles in a metabolic enzyme (succinate dehydrogenase, SDH) that regulates HIF-1α. One Sdhd allele was associated with reduced SDH activity rate, twofold greater cross-sectional area of tracheoles in flight muscle, and better flight performance. Butterflies with less tracheal development had greater post-flight hypoxia signaling, swollen & disrupted mitochondria, and accelerated aging of flight metabolic performance. Allelic associations with metabolic and aging phenotypes were replicated in samples from different clades. Experimentally elevated succinate in pupae increased the abundance of HIF-1α and expression of genes responsive to HIF activation, including tracheal morphogenesis genes. These results indicate that the hypoxia inducible pathway, even in lowland populations, can be an important axis for genetic variation underlying intraspecific differences in oxygen delivery, physiological performance, and life history.