Butterfly and Bee Garden

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Swallowtail Butterfly

Your Complete Guide to the Swallowtail Butterfly

There are 550 to 600 species of swallowtail butterfly, with many of them a common sight in various areas of the world. Swallowtail butterflies are also one of the largest species of butterfly, making them easy to see. Here we’ll explore this species and highlight some of the common types of swallowtail butterflies.

The Swallowtail Butterfly Basics:

Swallowtail ButterflySwallowtail butterflies are a group of butterflies from the Papilionidae family. They are found in all areas of the world except the Arctic. While they take their name from the tail like extensions on their hindwings, many species are tailless.

The color patterns can vary, with many having a black or blue background and green, blue, yellow, red, or orange markings. It is also possible to see seasonal or sexual differences. Many swallowtails mimic patterns and coloration of butterflies protected by a bad taste.

Development Stages:

Swallowtails have four stages of development. They move from egg to larva, then pupa before becoming an adult. After mating, the female lays small eggs on the underside of leaves. This not only provides protection but creates an immediate food source for the hatched caterpillars.

After hatching, the caterpillars go on a search for food. Once they have consumed sufficient food, they will encase themselves in a chrysalis to undergo the metamorphosis into the adult stage of life. The transformation typically takes a few days, and once the adult emerges, it flies out to find a mate.


Swallowtail butterflies enjoy a different diet according to their developmental stage. Caterpillars require a diet of leaves and vegetation. They can even ingest mildly toxic plants, becoming toxic themselves and providing protection from predators.

Due to their enjoyment of eating garden food, the swallowtail caterpillar is considered to be an agricultural pest in some areas.

Once they become an adult and no longer have functioning mandibles, they lap nectar from flowers and fruit. They can also feed on animal manure or mud.

Interesting Facts About the Swallowtail Butterfly:

Many swallowtail butterfly species are black and white, but even swallowtail butterfly caterpillar varieties have black and white patterns. These are designed to mimic droppings to deter potential predators.

There are types of swallowtail butterflies that can grow to have a wing span of over six inches. This makes it one of the largest butterfly species.

Swallowtail caterpillars spend winter as pupae attached low on plant stems. These are either brown or green, according to the surroundings, and can survive for long periods, even submerged in water.

Five Most Common Swallowtail Butterfly Varieties:

Although there are hundreds of types of swallowtail butterflies, there are some that are far more common.

Black Swallowtail ButterflyBlack Swallowtail:

The black swallowtail is a common variety in a number of areas of the world. Its larvae is often called “parsley caterpillars”, as this is one of the most common host plants. However, the larvae also host on fennel, dill, and Queen Anne’s lace. The females have an iridescent blue band on their hind wings, while the males have a yellow band.

Tiger Swallowtail:

These are frequently found in flower gardens and wooded areas. While there are varieties of tiger swallowtail around the world, they all look fairly similar. Females are predominantly black with tiger stripes that are only faintly visible in bright sunlight.

Pipevine Swallowtail:

As its name suggests, the pipevine swallowtail host on pipevines. While the males are a bold iridescent blue, the females are a duller black. This species lays bright red eggs on host plants, which grow into an extremely fast-moving swallowtail caterpillar.

Giant Swallowtail:

As its name suggests, the giant swallowtail is one of the largest butterfly varieties with a wingspan up to six inches. Another feature that makes this variety spectacular is its countershading. The topside of the wings is dark, while bright yellow on the bottom. This provides better camouflage, which is shared with their caterpillars and looks like fresh bird droppings.

Spicebush Swallowtail:

This species looks similar to the black swallowtail, but if you get a close look, you should be able to tell the difference. While black swallowtails have a small black dot in an orange circle on their lower wing, spicebush varieties do not. As its name suggests, this species hosts on Spicebush, but it can also be found on tulip trees, camphor sweet bay, and red bay. The caterpillars have large eyespots to deter predators.

Attracting Types of Swallowtail Butterflies into Your Garden:

Tiger Swallowtail ButterflyIf you would like to get a closer look at the different varieties of swallowtail butterfly, you can attract them into your garden. In addition to providing a water source and rocks to provide shelter, there are a number of nectar plants that will appeal to various swallowtail butterflies.

These include:

  • Zinnias: These are easy to care for and brightly colored plants that are a magnet for a variety of swallowtails.
  • Bee Balm: This is a perennial that has leaves with a citrus, minty smell that is delightful in any garden. However, this plant tends to thrive in cooler regions.
  • Parsley: If you want to attract swallowtails and create a practical area of your garden, consider a herb patch with plenty of parsley. Just be aware that this is a popular food source for swallowtail caterpillars, so you may not get much to use in your kitchen.
  • Butterfly Weed: This milkweed variant is often a host plant for monarch butterflies, but it is also popular with swallowtails.
  • Buddleia: This plant is commonly known as butterfly bushes for good reason, as it attracts a lot of different types of butterflies, not just swallowtails.
  • Sunflowers: Sunflowers are a great plant to attract swallowtails. In fact, the female has the ideal markings for this flower.


With hundreds of varieties, swallowtails can be a fascinating butterfly to spot or attract into your garden. With a keen eye, you can even spot the different markings that indicate whether they are male or female or notice seasonal changes. Once you become familiar with the swallowtail butterfly, you are sure to enjoy watching them fly around your home.