Discover the Official Virginia State Insect

Written by Luke Stevens
Updated: September 9, 2023
© Galan
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Located in the eastern United States, Virginia is home to incredible geographical diversity. The state has beautiful beaches, sprawling forests, and breathtaking mountains. Throughout all of this wilderness lives an abundance of wildlife. Some common animals found in Virginia include deer, groundhogs, beavers, and coyotes.

View of hills and farmland in Virginia's Piedmont, seen from Sky Meadows State Park.
Virginia is home to amazing geographical diversity.

©Jon Bilous/

While larger mammals are prevalent throughout Virginia, many insects also thrive in its subtropical climate. Although there are thousands of species of insects within Virginia, one has been elevated above the rest. Keep reading to discover the official Virginia State Insect.

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Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

State animal infographic for the state insect of Virginia, the eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly.
This butterfly is prominent throughout most of the eastern half of the United States.

The official Virginia State Insect is the eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly. Belonging to a larger family of swallowtail butterflies, the eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly is incredibly recognizable throughout the United States. It was first recorded as a drawing in 1587 by John White, a commander on a North American expedition. Since then, the butterfly has become extremely common, appearing on two United States postal stamps.


Eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies have a striking appearance. Their wings are yellow, with four black bands slashing downwards. The edges of their wings are black, decorated with two rows of yellow dots. These insects are fairly large, with a wingspan ranging from three to five-and-a-half inches (eight to 14 centimeters). Female butterflies of this species are typically larger than males. Eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies also have hindwings that contrast the rest of their coloring. Their hindwings are a bright blue color, sometimes speckled with hues of burnt orange. The bodies of these insects are striped with black and yellow markings and covered in tiny hairs that give them a fuzzy appearance.

After hatching from bright green eggs, the larvae of this species reach around two-and-a-half inches (six centimeters) in length. These larvae are a leafy-green in color with a light-colored underside. Parallel sets of blue dots line the backs of their bodies. One distinctive feature of these larvae is their metathorax or their hind legs. This section of the larvae has two false eyespots. These eyespots are yellow, outlined in black with a blue and white spot in the center. Although these eyespots are useless for sight, they serve another purpose. This feature protects larvae by misdirecting attacks from predators and indicating that they are indelible. Because of this helpful feature, these larvae are more likely to grow into adult butterflies.

A photograph of an Eastern tiger swallowtail feeding from a purple coneflower
Eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies are fairly large and have a striking appearance.

©Ron Rowan Photography/


The eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly is prominent throughout most of the eastern half of the United States. In the northern regions of the United States close to Canada, more than one species of this butterfly coexist. The sympatric nature allows for several hybrid species of the butterfly that are only found in this specific region. There is no estimate of the population of this insect in Virginia, but the species continues to grow in number steadily. Large concentrations of these butterflies exist in a number of different places. Popular spots include gardens, forests, and roadsides.


Similar to most other insects, these butterflies are fairly solitary. They are often seen flying high above the trees in search of food and mates. During mating, a male and female butterfly will circle one another first. While they are flying around each other, the male releases pheromones in order to further attract the female. After this process is complete, the couple will land and mate.

During feeding, males will often congregate to participate in puddling. This is when many butterflies gather on gravel or muddy puddles in order to extract nutrients. While common for young male butterflies, this activity is rarely seen in females.

Life Cycle

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Chrysalis (Papilio glaucus)
The chrysalis stage lasts between 10 and 20 days.

©Jay Ondreicka/

After mating, female butterflies lay their eggs on host leaves. They often can lay up to 50 eggs per day. The eggs are round and green, and eventually turn yellowish-green decorated with red dots. Measuring 0.03 inches in height and 0.05 inches in width, these eggs are much larger than other butterfly species. They usually take between four and 10 days to hatch.

From the eggs, caterpillars hatch. These caterpillars lay a silk mat on the host leaf that causes the edges to fold up and prevent them from falling. They feed off of the host leaf in order to grow and develop. Right before they enter the Chrysalis phase, these caterpillars turn a dark brown color. The caterpillar stage is the longest of the life cycle, lasting between three and four weeks.

The larvae then enter a chrysalis, which measures around one-and-a-half inches (three centimeters) in length. These cocoons range in color from white to brown and are covered in green dots. Tree trunks and fence posts make great hosts for the chrysalis. This stage lasts between 10 and 20 days.

Finally, the insects emerge as adult tiger swallowtail butterflies. They usually live for around 14 days, and their primary purpose is to find nectar in plants and mate.

The Featured Image

Female eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly
Female eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly standing on white flowers and surrounded by green leaves.
© Galan

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About the Author

My name is Luke, and I currently a student at the University of Southern California. I love the outdoors, learning, and writing. I am also involved in several groups focusing on the entertainment industry and business administration. My favorite animals are dogs, koala bears, and dolphins.

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