Swallowtail Butterfly

Papilionidae

Last updated: January 21, 2023
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© iStock.com/wayne stockburger

Group of butterflies is called a kaleidoscope.

Swallowtail Butterfly Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Arthropoda
Class
Insecta
Order
Lepidoptera
Family
Papilionidae
Genus
Papilio
Scientific Name
Papilionidae

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Swallowtail Butterfly Conservation Status


Swallowtail Butterfly Facts

Prey
plant nectar
Main Prey
plant nectar
Name Of Young
larva (caterpillar); the pupa (chrysalis)
Group Behavior
  • Solitary
Fun Fact
Group of butterflies is called a kaleidoscope.
Estimated Population Size
With 500+ species of swallowtails, its difficult accurately estimate population size.
Biggest Threat
habitat destruction and climate change
Most Distinctive Feature
colorful, swallow-like tails
Distinctive Feature
large size, distinctive markings
Other Name(s)
Swallowtail butterflies are comprised of over 500 species, including Black Swallowtail, Zebra Swallowtail, Spicebush Swallowtail, and Pipeline Swallowtail.
Gestation Period
Swallowtail eggs hatch in approximately 4 days; Caterpillars become pupas in about two weeks;
Temperament
docile, solitary; males can be aggressive when defending territory or mating.
Wingspan
2-4 inches
Training
N/A
Optimum pH Level
N/A
Incubation Period
N/A
Age Of Independence
birth
Age Of Fledgling
N/A
Average Spawn Size
300-700
Litter Size
300-700
Habitat
Worldwide except Antarctica
Predators
Birds, lizards, snakes, spiders
Diet
Herbivore
Average Litter Size
300-700
Lifestyle
  • Diurnal
  • Solitary
Favorite Food
nectar
Type
Papilionidae
Common Name
Swallowtail
Special Features
Swallow-like tail
Location
worldwide except in Antarctica
Slogan
N/A
Group
kaleidoscope
Nesting Location
under leaves, between rocks
Age of Molting
N/A
Migratory
1

Swallowtail Butterfly Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Grey
  • Yellow
  • Fawn
  • Blue
  • Black
  • White
  • Tan
  • Dark Brown
  • Cream
  • Orange
  • Chocolate
Skin Type
Exoskeleton
Lifespan
2-4 weeks
Weight
0.0014 - 0.0105 ounces
Height
1-2 inches
Length
2-4 inch wingspan
Age of Sexual Maturity
approx. 1-2 weeks
Age of Weaning
N/A
Venomous
No
Aggression
Medium

This post may contain affiliate links to our partners like Chewy, Amazon, and others. Purchasing through these helps us further the A-Z Animals mission to educate about the world's species..

View all of the Swallowtail Butterfly images!



Did you know that there are approximately 600 species of Swallowtail butterflies? Swallowtail butterflies, in the family Papilionidae, have distinctive tail-like extensions on their hindwings, which resemble the tails of swallows. Swallowtails live on every continent except Antarctica. They typically feed on nectar from flowers and are important pollinators. Keep reading to learn more about Swallowtail butterflies.

Giant swallowtail butterfly
Swallowtails live on every continent except Antarctica.

©Lorraine Hudgins/Shutterstock.com

Incredible Swallowtail Butterfly Facts:

  • Swallowtail butterflies have a distinctive forked tail on their hind wings that resembles a swallow’s tail, which gives them their name.
  • The caterpillars of some swallowtail species have a false head on the back of their bodies, which they can use to distract predators.
  • The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly is one of the most common and widely distributed swallowtail species in North America.
  • The Black Swallowtail butterfly has a wingspan of up to 4 inches and is found in gardens and meadows.
  • Adult Swallowtails feed on nectar from flowers, while the caterpillars feed on plants such as dill, fennel, and parsley.
  • Some species of swallowtail butterflies, such as the Papilio polytes, exhibit mimicry in which females mimic inedible species for protection against predators.
Two-tailed swallowtail butterfly collecting nectar from flower
Swallowtail butterflies have distinctive forked tails on their hind wings.

©Pamela Au/Shutterstock.com

Swallowtail Butterfly: Scientific Name

The scientific name for the swallowtail butterfly is Papilionidae, which is Latin for butterfly. There are about 600 separate species of swallowtail butterflies. Each one of these species has a unique scientific name. For example, the old world Swallowtail butterfly is the Papilo machaon. It is named for the Greek physician Machaon, who is said to have been able to heal wounds with the help of swallowtail butterflies. The tiger swallowtail, Papilio glaucus, is a brightly colored swallowtail revered for its orange and black tiger stripes. Papilo, which is Latin for butterfly, and glaucus, which is Latin for bright, gleaming, or sparkling, references the tiger swallowtail’s bright colors.

Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus)
The tiger swallowtail, Papilio glaucus, is a brightly colored swallowtail revered for its orange and black tiger stripes.

©iStock.com/Sundry Photography

Swallowtail Butterfly: Appearance and Behavior:

Swallowtail butterflies have large, colorful wings, patterned with black and yellow or black and white. They have a distinctive tail on their hindwings, which gives them their name. The body of a swallowtail butterfly is typically thin and elongated, and they have large, compound eyes. The wingspan of a swallowtail butterfly can range from 5 – 15 centimeters (2 to 6 inches). Swallowtails weigh between 0.04 – 0.3 grams (0.0014 – 0.0105 ounces).

Swallowtails are active during the day, flying and feeding on nectar from flowers. They are strong fliers that have a distinctive flutter flight pattern when they are looking for a place to rest. Though swallowtails are typically solitary creatures, they will occasionally gather to puddle. Puddling involves a group of swallowtails coming together in marshy, damp areas to acquire the nutrients that have leeched from the soil.

Giant swallowtail butterfly (Papilio cresphontes) feeding on white wildflowers.
Swallowtail butterflies have large, colorful wings, patterned with black and yellow or black and white.

©iStock.com/rybalov77

Though usually docile creatures, male swallowtails can become quite aggressive during mating season and when defending their territory. Adult female swallowtails typically lay their eggs on the leaves of host plants, which include fennel, parsley, and dill. Once the eggs hatch, the caterpillars feed on the leaves.

Swallowtail Butterfly: Habitat

Swallowtails are found everywhere in the world except for Antarctica. A swallowtail butterfly’s habitat can vary depending on the species, but many species are found in wooded areas, gardens, and fields. They are typically found near sources of nectar, such as flowers, as well as near their host plants, fennel, parsley, and dill, which are used for laying eggs. Some species live near swamps, marshes, or rainforests. Other species prefer mountainous or coastal areas. Swallowtails are less common in arid or desert regions. Overall, swallowtail butterflies live in a wide variety of habitats, but they all require a source of nectar and a host plant for their survival.

Texas Thistle
A swallowtail butterfly’s habitat can vary depending on the species, but many species are found in wooded areas, gardens, and fields.

©iStock.com/wayne stockburger

Migration

Swallowtail butterflies, including species such as the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail, migrate seasonally. These migrations typically occur in the spring and fall and may involve butterflies traveling hundreds or even thousands of miles. The triggers and mechanisms that affect migration are not fully understood. They are thought to be influenced by such factors as temperature, food availability, and changes in daylight. Some species of swallowtail butterflies have multiple generations in a year. The young of the second and third generations may migrate to different regions. This leads to the establishment of new populations. Swallowtails may be seen in large numbers, during migration, with individuals flying in a southwesterly direction during the spring and a northeasterly direction during the fall.

Slowest animals in North America
Swallowtail butterflies migrate seasonally.

©Melody Mellinger/Shutterstock.com

Swallowtail Butterfly: Diet

Colorful swallowtail butterflies have a diverse diet, which includes a variety of different plants. They feed on the nectar of a wide range of flowers, including thistles, clovers, and milkweeds. Some species of swallowtail butterflies also feed on rotting fruit and tree sap. Swallowtails have a preference for red, orange, and yellow flowers. Their diet plays a key role in their survival and reproduction.

Butterfly on verbena flower
Swallowtails feed on plant nectar.

©MacBen/Shutterstock.com

Swallowtail Butterfly: Predators and Threats

Swallowtail butterflies, like many other butterfly species, have a variety of natural predators. Birds such as robins and bluejays are known to eat adult butterflies, while lizards and spiders may prey on both adult butterflies and their larvae.
Habitat destruction is a major threat to swallowtail butterflies and many other species. Swallowtail butterflies lose their host plants, nectar sources, and breeding sites, as natural areas are cleared for human development or agriculture. Pesticides, which are used to control crop pests, can also be toxic to butterflies, killing both adult butterflies and their larvae.
Climate change is also affecting swallowtail butterfly populations. Rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns can affect the timing of butterfly emergence, migration, and mating, leading to mismatches between butterflies and their food plants. Warmer temperatures may also lead to an increase in the range and population of predators, such as birds and insects that feed on butterflies, further reducing butterfly populations.

Blue jay perched on branch with back to camera
Birds such as bluejays are known to eat adult butterflies.

©iStock.com/BrianEKushner

Conservation Status

Some species of swallowtail butterflies are considered endangered or threatened, while others are not. For example, The Schaus’ swallowtail butterfly (Heraclides aristodemus ponceanus) is listed as an endangered species in the U.S. The Eastern tiger swallowtail’s(Papilio glaucus) conservation status is classified as one of least concern. The status of a particular species can vary depending on factors such as population size, distribution, and the threats it faces. The population of swallowtail butterflies varies depending on the specific species and location.

Photograph of a mountain top that has been destroyed by logging. Brownish red dirt is visible where all of the trees have been clear-cut. Many tree trunks are seen in the center frame. The destroyed mountaintop is dimmed with live, green trees. In the background are mountain tops that have not been destroyed.
Habitat destruction is destabilizing to certain swallowtail species.

©Rich Carey/Shutterstock.com

Some populations may be stable or increasing, while others may be decreasing. Factors such as habitat loss, pollution, and climate change affect swallowtail populations. The availability of their host plants and the presence of natural predators affect the swallowtail population. Conservation efforts, such as habitat restoration and protection, can help to support and improve swallowtail butterfly populations. It is important to note that the conservation status of a species can change over time as a result of changes in population size or the severity of threats it faces.

Swallowtail Butterfly: Lifecycle

The lifecycle of a swallowtail butterfly typically includes four stages: egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis), and adult. The female butterfly lays her eggs on the leaves of host plants. The eggs hatch into larvae (caterpillars), which feed on the leaves or stems of host plants. After several weeks of feeding and growing, the caterpillar enters the pupal stage, where it forms a chrysalis. Inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar undergoes metamorphosis and emerges as an adult butterfly.
Adult swallowtail butterflies have a lifespan of about 2 to 4 weeks.

15 bright orange pipevine swallowtail butterfly eggs ar visible on a yellow-green pipevine stem.
The female butterfly lays her eggs on the leaves or stems of host plants.

©Sari ONeal/Shutterstock.com

Up Next:

View all 275 animals that start with S

About the Author

Hi! I'm Kat, and my favorite animals are river otters and goldfinches. Baking, gardening, and sewing are my favorite pastimes. I live with two people and two dogs.

Swallowtail Butterfly FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How any different species of swallowtail butterflies are there?

There are approximately 600 different species of swallowtail butterflies

How big are Swallowtail butterflies?

Swallowtail butterflies are on the larger side, with wingspans 0f 2 -4 inches.

How many eggs does a female Swallowtail butterfly lay?

a female swallowtail butterfly will lay an average of 300-700 eggs over a period of 1-5 days.

What is the average lifespan of a swallowtail butterfly?

The average lifespan of a swallowtail butterfly is 2-4 weeks.

What do Swallowtail butterflies eat?

Swallowtail butterflies primarily feed on plant nectar.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. butterfly.com, Available here: https://www.butterflyidentification.com/swallowtail-papilionidae
  2. naba.org, Available here: https://www.naba.org/chapters/nabanj/butterflies/eastern_tiger_swallowtail.html
  3. wikipedia.org, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swallowtail_butterfly

Newly Added Animals

A Plott Hound Mix
Plott Hound Mix

While the Plott hound is the state dog of North Carolina, it is a very rare breed and not well-known in other states.

A Mockingbird
Mockingbird

Mockingbirds are incredible mimics that can learn hundreds of songs!

Most Recently Updated Animals

A Mockingbird
Mockingbird

Mockingbirds are incredible mimics that can learn hundreds of songs!

A Plott Hound Mix
Plott Hound Mix

While the Plott hound is the state dog of North Carolina, it is a very rare breed and not well-known in other states.

A Bearded Collie
Bearded Collie

Weekly brushing is mandatory!