Swallowtail Butterfly: Identification Chart (Pictures), Types, Butterfly Life Cycle

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Gardening | February 26, 2024

Man pointing to swallowtail butterfly flying by after learning how to identify 10 types of swallowtail butterflies, 8 endangered swallowtails species, the butterfly life cycle, and butterfly facts.

The Swallowtail butterfly is beloved for its diversity, colors, and large size.

In fact, the third largest butterfly in the world is the Giant African Swallowtail butterfly which has an impressive wingspan of 18.8 cm and can be spied fluttering around the treetops in Central African rainforests.

Only the Goliath Birdwing and the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing are bigger, but the Swallowtail Butterfly sports unparalleled beauty.

When delving into the Papilionidae family tree, you’ll see just how gorgeous this mostly tropical species is and which ones may already be in your backyard.

This complete guide outlines a number of types of swallowtail butterflies, with pictures and characteristics so that you can identify them when you see them.

Swallowtail Butterfly


Swallowtail Butterfly in oval frame on green background.
  • Family: Papilionidae
  • Genus: Papilio
  • Common Traits: Caterpillars have forked osmeterium. Adult: Second wing vein goes all the way to wing margin; First and second vein are not linked
  • Diet: Catterpillars: Plants from the Annonaceae, Aristolochiaceae, Lauraceae, Rutaceae, and Umbelliferae (Apiaceae) families. Adult: Nectar
  • Natural Habitat: Tropics and sub-tropical regions
  • Average Weight: From .04 grams to .3 grams
  • Average Wing Span: Depending on species, 2 to 6 inches

10 Types of Swallowtail Butterflies: Identification Chart (Pictures)

In Great Britain, Swallowtail butterflies are the biggest and most unusual butterfly species that can be found. Yet at the same time, they are becoming harder to find in the fens and marshes of the Norfolk Broads and the north of Cambridge where they are normally spotted.

This could be the results of a number of factors, or the fact that birds, spiders, and mice consider the caterpillars to be juicy morsels and feast on them any chance they get.

That’s not to say that the adult butterflies get spared either as they are targeted by birds regularly, their short 4-week lifespan frequently cut even shorter.

Here are 10 types that are observed on both sides of the Atlantic:

1. Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly

The male is easily identified by the row of big, bright yellow dots running down the center of its wings, while the female, in contrast, has a row of considerably smaller dots (to fool predators) and a more prominent splash of blue on its hind wings.

An Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly resting on green grass, showcasing its distinctive black wings with yellow and blue markings.

(Image: Bernell8)

A Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly with dark wings and light spots, perched on vibrant pink flowers.

(Image: Naturelady9)

2. Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly

The male butterfly has deep black wings with white patches running along the edges while the female has iridescent blue ones, but both of them have orange dots on the underside of the wings.

3. The Blue Swallowtail Butterfly

Also known as the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, it is more black than blue and is surprisingly very shiny with blue and white spots. Nevertheless, it is quite eye-catching and has a wingspan of 3.5 inches.

A Blue Swallowtail butterfly with deep blue wings and white markings, resting on clusters of white flowers against green foliage.

(Image: Ryan Kaldari10)

A Giant Swallowtail butterfly with black wings with yellow spots, perched on green leaves.

(Image: Priticious11)

4. Giant Swallowtail Butterfly

Although dark brown is the dominant color, this giant butterfly with a wingspan from 11.7cm up to 18.8 cm, is splashed with bright yellow dots reaching from both wing tips and then down to the tail.

5. Anise Swallowtail Butterfly

Large and striking, the Anise Swallowtail is very dark with yellow dots along the wing margins and could easily be mistaken for the Giant Swallowtail except the yellow back pattern is different,3 and it is only about 3 inches wide.

A close-up of an Anise Swallowtail butterfly with striking yellow and black patterned wings, resting on a rocky surface.

(Image: Narsh12)

A Zebra Swallowtail butterfly, showcasing its black and white striped wings and long tails, perched on orange flowers against a blurred green background.

(Image: henmand13)

6. Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly

One of the most recognizable among Swallowtail butterflies for the swathes of zebra-like white stripes streaking down its wings, the Zebra Swallowtail has a medium frame and a wingspan just shy of 4 inches.

7. Two-Tailed Swallowtail Butterfly

Found in Mexico and the western regions of the United States, the mostly yellow and black-striped Two-Tailed Swallowtail is a very big butterfly at 5 inches wide. It gets its name from the two tails protruding from each hind wing.

A Two-Tailed Swallowtail butterfly, with vibrant yellow wings, with black stripes and blue and orange markings near the tail, rests on a cluster of pink flowers.


A Spangle Swallowtail butterfly with its sleek black wings with vein patterns and distinctive red-orange spangled markings near the base, and its long antennae.

(Image: Pavel Kirillov15)

8. The Spangle Swallowtail Butterfly

A native of India, the forewings are striped while the back wings are blue, although the coloring can be different within this species. Unlike the majority of Swallowtails, it is tailless, but it is still a large specimen with a wingspan of nearly 5 inches.

9. The Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly

This rare specimen has long tails surrounded by blue patterns that resemble inverted crescent moons, and just two orange-yellow spots in the center of the secondary wings. Overall, it is a creamy white interspersed with black stripes to give it quite a stately appearance.

A Scarce Swallowtail butterfly with its striking yellow wings, bold black stripes and intricate blue and black markings near the tail perched on green foliage with yellow flowers.

(Image: WikiImages16)

An Apollo Swallowtail butterfly, with its translucent wings dotted with red and black spots, perched on a purple thistle flower.

(Image: Hans17)

10. The Apollo Swallowtail Butterfly

Unlike many of its Swallowtail brethren, Apollo has white feathery wings and a hairy body. It has large black and often red spots pockmarking its upper side, while underneath the same markings are slightly muted yet no less impressive.

8 Swallowtail Butterflies on the Endangered List

Some of the most stunning and fascinating butterflies on Earth are Swallowtails, distinguishable by their distinctive, tail-like extensions on their hind wings.

Many of these insects’ native habitats are under threat, unfortunately, and they are either being displaced or being deprived of the crucial host plants that they rely on to lay their eggs.

The following species are endangered.

1. The Fluminense Swallowtail

(Parides ascanius)

This is the first butterfly species in Brazil to be classified as endangered, and can only be found in the Rio de Janeiro lowlands and the subcoastal wetland areas.

A Fluminense Swallowtail butterfly displays its striking wings which blend deep brown colors with contrasting white bands in a white background.

(Image: Notafly18)

The species is critically endangered in Brazil because of the ongoing destruction of its habitat brought on by the rapid urbanization of Rio de Janeiro’s coastal regions.

A Kaiser-I-Hind Swallowtail butterfly showing its brown wings with teal patterns, complemented by yellow-bordered wingtips and an emerald body.

(Image: Frederic Moore19)

2. The Kaiser-I-Hind Swallowtail

(Teinopalpus imperialis imperatrix)

The destruction of its host plants and the overall degradation of the forests in Nepal and Southern Myanmar pose a serious hazard to the continued existence of this rare and beautiful Swallowtail.

The best conservation method to save this species is to limit human interaction so its woodland habitats have time to recover from the damage already inflicted.

3. Corsican Swallowtail

(Papilio hospiton)

Unique to the Mediterranean islands of Corsica and Sardinia, the removal of its primary host plants by farmers is drastically reducing the population at an unsustainable rate.

A Corsican Swallowtail butterfly showcases its intricate pattern of deep brown and creamy stripes, with blue spots and vibrant orange markings on its wings, in a white bright background.

(Image: Sarefo20)

Despite being an endangered species, this population in Sardinia receives even less attention and protection than it does in Corsica and the future is looking uncertain for the Corsican Swallowtail.

A Schaus Swallowtail butterfly rests on fresh green leaves with its wings displaying a striking contrast of black and yellow patterns.

(Image: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region21)

4. Schaus’ Swallowtail

(Heraclides aristodemus ponceanus)

Recognizable in its native habitat of South Florida, its population has drastically declined over the last few decades because of negative human interactions and it is now at a grave risk of extinction.5

Habitat restoration, reintroduction of host plants and flora, and consistent monitoring are all part of recent efforts to reinvigorate the dwindling population.

5. Harris’ Mimic Swallowtail

(Eurytides lysithous harrisianus)

Sadly, the Harris’ Mimic Swallowtail butterfly has virtually been wiped out everywhere save for one small area in Southeast Brazil. The possibility of this butterfly surviving is so low due to the increasing levels of construction from property companies and the clearing of large swathes of trees for firewood and to make space for animal grazing land.

A Hahnel Amazonian Swallowtail butterfly with its wings spread, showing intricate brown and translucent patterns on a white background.

(Image: Atylotus22)

6. Hahnel’s Amazonian Swallowtail

(Parides hahneli)

Lane defoliation may be a problem for the Hahnel’s Amazonian Swallowtail as well as collectors paying to have this rare species that only resides in a small region on the sandy riverbanks in Central Brazil.

The only way to stop the destruction of this Swallowtail is to impose harsher penalties for those involved in smuggling them on an international level.

7. Oaxacan Swallowtail

(Papilio esperanza)

The Oaxacan Swallowtail is such a critically endangered species that it has only been seen in one location in the cloud forest of Oaxaca, Mexico. It has been included in the IUCN red list and only a few of them remain in existence due to the destruction of their natural habitat, international smugglers, and the effects of climate change.

8. Jamaican Kite Swallowtail

(Eurytides marcellinus)

Due to habitat loss, competition from the introduction of new species, as well as the intensive agricultural expansion in the area around Kingston, Jamaica, the Jamaican Kite is on the verge of extinction.

The one location where this species may be found is in the Roselle colony, and the population there often goes through wild fluctuations, some years only developing two broods a year.

They need to be protected to prevent further population losses because of the decline of their primary food source, and the negative effects of human interaction.

Butterfly Life Cycle: What Are the Butterfly Metamorphosis Stages?

During its lifetime, a butterfly will go through a full and complete metamorphosis from the time it is a caterpillar to the time it is a fully formed, gorgeous butterfly.1

There are four distinct phases in the development of a Swallow butterfly from a tiny egg to a rather large adult, with the egg or ovum the initial part of the Swallowtail butterfly’s life story.

Graphic illustrating the Swallowtail butterfly life cycle, starting with eggs, transitioning to a caterpillar, forming a chrysalis, and emerging as a butterfly, with arrows indicating the progression.

This process is fascinating to behold and is a wonder of nature as one type of creature changes into something completely different.

1. Swallowtail Eggs

Considering the size of Swallowtail butterflies, their eggs are small and may be any shape, round, cylindrical, or oval, and even any color.

The female butterfly lays her eggs on the leaves or stems of plants at a rate of between 30 to 50 at a time and she won’t stop until between 200 to 400 of them are laid.

The eggs are often pale yellow and will darken before they hatch in about 10 to 13 days.

2. Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillars

The second stage of the life cycle starts after the larva, also known as the caterpillar, emerges from the egg with only one thought in its mind, food. This is the primary reason why the females lay their eggs on those luscious leaves, to provide accessible nourishment for their new progeny.

Without even having to change position, the recently hatched larva can start chomping away to their heart’s content.

A Swallowtail caterpillar with black, yellow, and orange stripes, clings to a green leaf.

(Image: rbu124923)

At this stage, their life revolves around food, and from the moment they break out, they consume the foliage on an unending eating spree. But what do Swallowtail caterpillars eat?

Is any leaf fair game? Not quite.

Caterpillars only consume leaves from plants and trees known as umbellifers from the extensive family Apiaceae which has over 3,800 species. This includes carrots, parsley, celery, coriander, and parsnips, as well as others.

Although the tiny caterpillar’s body expands dramatically as it continues to consume the leaves nonstop, its strong outer covering does not expand as it grows.

Instead, in a process known as molting that can happen up to 5 times, this exoskeleton is shrugged off and a newer, bigger one replaces it in preparation for the next step.

3. Black Swallowtail Chrysalis and the Swallowtail Caterpillar

The final exoskeleton outer layer is crucial to the next stage of development, the chrysalis stage.

Instinctively, after about 3 to 4 weeks of gorging itself, the caterpillars know when to crawl up a twig or onto a branch to start the change.2 Once in place, the outer exoskeleton breaks apart, revealing the chrysalis that will now wrap itself around the caterpillar as it morphs into its next reincarnation.

On the surface, it may appear that there is not much going on for the next 2 weeks or so but inside the wonders of nature are hard at work. But incredibly, for some species of butterflies, this chrysalis period can last up to a full year.

So why does it take so long?

The process is a lot more complicated than you may think. The interior of the chrysalis is not just to protect the pupa from the elements while it goes through the transformation, it is destined to actually become part of the butterfly-to-be.

Step by step, day by day, the caterpillar’s chrysalis is dismantled and rebuilt into the burgeoning butterfly’s wings, body, and legs, dictating what outstanding colors will paint its exterior.

This incredible feat of metamorphosis is only possible because of the quantity of food previously consumed voraciously by the caterpillar as if its future depended on it.

Which, as you can see, it actually did.

4. Black Swallowtail Butterfly

The final stage of the life cycle of a butterfly, the adult stage, begins when it breaks free from its cocoon in all its newly fashioned glory.

Because so many eggs were laid at the same time, hundreds of caterpillars will have gone through the change to emerge at the same as magnificent butterflies, ready to take on the world, to mate, and soon ready to start the entire regeneration cycle again.

A Swallowtail butterfly spreads its wings beneath a row of dangling chrysalises.

(Image: MajitoPanquesito24)

Not being as particular about the dining options as caterpillars, they will take the nectar from flowers growing on Magnolia trees, Ash trees, and Willow trees and on every flower within their flight path.

But how long do Swallowtail butterflies live? Not very long.

Eventually, between dining on nectar and pollinating some of the same plants that attract hummingbirds, the Swallowtail butterfly will find a partner and start a new generation by laying hundreds and hundreds more eggs.

After that, whether it is an eastern Swallowtail or any one of the hundreds of Swallowtail species out there, many of them will have just 1 to 4 weeks to find a mate before their time’s up, before they die off.

Swallowtail Butterfly Information, Species, and Habitat

There are thought to be between 550 to 600 different kinds of these bright, and multicolored butterflies that are known to exist on continents whether they have a tropical temperament or not.

Only Antarctica is shunned by them and all other types of butterflies as the sub-zero conditions would probably freeze their delicate wings in mid-motion.

In the United States, North America has become the predominant adopted home of four distinct types of Swallowtail butterflies, the Giant Swallowtail butterfly (Heraclides), the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly (Battus), the Black Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio), and the Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Pterourus).

All of them are essentially black with varying degrees of colored markings to differentiate them from each other, but it will take a keen eye to spot the difference as some of them appear incredibly similar, such as the Two-Tailed Swallowtail and the female Tiger Swallowtail butterfly.

As for why they are called Swallowtails, the popular title comes from the forked look on their hind wings which resemble the tails of swallows and other similar birds.

This attractive feature is visible while the butterfly is resting with its wings extended and is on every single member of this particular family apart from the Indra and Polydamus varieties.

Swallowtail Host Plants

Big and beautiful Swallowtail butterflies are what every gardener wants to see flitting between the trees and plants in the flower bed and around the backyard. They are not only a sign of spring and summer but also representative of the best and most colorful insects that nature has to offer.

Not everyone, however, knows how to attract the exact ones they most want to see as some of these butterflies are kind of fussy.

It’s hard to believe that Swallowtails can be so particular about where they lay their eggs, but the Zebra Swallowtail is partial to the Pawpaw tree, whereas the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail prefers Ash trees, while others prefer the Poplar tree.

Whichever types of Swallowtail butterfly or butterflies you want to attract to your surroundings, do a touch of research to find out which is the best host plant for them.

You will be pleasantly surprised at how quickly they will just seemingly pop up out of nowhere and congregate around your flowers if you give them what they want in the form of the right host and nectar plants.4

Swallowtail Butterfly Facts

The bright, extended wings of the Swallowtail butterfly are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes down to what there is to know about them. Coming from such a large family, from being spread all over the globe, there has to be some fascinating information about these friendly pollinators that still remains unknown.6

  • Queen Alexandra, from Papua New Guinea, is the biggest butterfly on the planet and has a wingspan of 26 cm (10.2 inches).
  • The longest-living species of butterfly in the world is the Brimstone Butterfly, surviving up to 13 months instead of having a lifespan of just 1 month like most Swallowtail butterflies.
  • To avoid being eaten by birds and other predators, the Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar absorbs a toxic substance from the plant it feeds on so it has a foul, off-putting taste.
  • It can take just 40 seconds for the male and female Swallowtail to meet and decide that they want to mate.

One of the unfortunate reasons for the decline of some species of Swallowtails is down to commercial interests and the value of rare butterflies.

There are many collectors who will pay top dollar for beautiful butterflies that are hard to find, and even harder to get.

Combined with the increasing instability of their natural habitat in the most vulnerable areas from either the rise in greenhouse gas emissions or deforestation,7 butterflies in these situations are often under threat of extinction.

Conservation efforts in their native nations could help guarantee the survival of the amazing Swallowtail butterfly.

Frequently Asked Questions About Swallowtail Butterfly

Do Yellow Swallowtail Butterfly Produce Yellow Caterpillars?

Not at all. The caterpillars start out as black and white, and then quickly turn bright green with black bands, but some swallowtails have black, blue, brown, green, and yellow larva.

What Is the Largest Swallowtail Yellow and Black Butterfly?

That title goes to the Giant African Swallowtail butterfly which has a wingspan of nearly 10 inches.


1Department of Systematic Biology. (2023). Butterflies. Smithsonian. Retrieved October 13, 2023, from <https://www.si.edu/spotlight/buginfo/butterfly>

2Collins-Smith, S. M. (2022, March 22). 3 Common Butterfly Caterpillars. MSU Extension Service. Retrieved October 13, 2023, from <http://extension.msstate.edu/blog/3-common-butterfly-caterpillars>

3McAuslane, H. (2018, January). giant swallowtail. University of Florida IFAS Extension. Retrieved October 13, 2023, from <https://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/citrus/giantswallowtail.htm>

4Butterfly Atlas, USF Water Institute, University of South Florida. (2023). Host and Nectar Plants. Alabama Butterfly Atlas. Retrieved October 13, 2023, from <https://alabama.butterflyatlas.usf.edu/host-and-nectar-plants>

5Barkham, P. (2010, March 17). 10% of Europe’s Butterflies Face Extinction. Our World. Retrieved October 13, 2023, from <https://ourworld.unu.edu/en/europes-butterflies-face-extinction>

6Schmotzer, C. (2023, July 5). Pollination and Pollinators. PennState Extension. Retrieved October 13, 2023, from <https://extension.psu.edu/pollination-and-pollinators>

7United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2023, October 5). Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions. EPA. Retrieved October 13, 2023, from <https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions>

8Photo by Bernell. Pixabay. Retrieved from <https://pixabay.com/photos/eastern-black-swallowtail-1512964/>

9Photo by Naturelady. Pixabay. Retrieved from <https://pixabay.com/photos/butterfly-spicebush-swallowtail-3619834/>

10Photo by Ryan Kaldari. Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved from <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Battus_philenor_01.jpg>

11Photo by Priticious. Pixabay. Retrieved from <https://pixabay.com/photos/giant-swallowtail-butterfly-plant-6151792/>

12Photo by Narsh. Pixabay. Retrieved from <https://pixabay.com/photos/anise-swallowtail-butterfly-insect-7195483/>

13Photo by henmand. Pixabay. Retrieved from <https://pixabay.com/photos/butterfly-insect-flower-5453188/>

14Photo by ALAN SCHMIERER. Public Domain Dedication (CC0). Flickr. Retrieved from <https://flickr.com/photos/8101022@N05/6860897702>

15Photo by Pavel Kirillov. CC BY-SA 2.0 Deed. Resized and Changed Format. Flickr. Retrieved from <https://www.flickr.com/photos/pasha_k/49794145246/in/photolist-2iS91zC-KjKy1B-2jFyUP-2LQEAc-8ounr2-56rnW2-4ZEbmn-2ruhV8-2mcRDpT-8wroYB-6E4vyt>

16Photo by WikiImages. Pixabay. Retrieved from <https://pixabay.com/photos/scarce-swallowtail-butterfly-63138/>

17Photo by Hans. Pixabay. Retrieved from <https://pixabay.com/photos/butterfly-apollo-insect-wings-5486641/>

18Photo by Notafly. CC BY-SA 3.0 Deed. Resized and Changed Format. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved from <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:ParidesascaniusMale.JPG>

19Photo by Frederic Moore. Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved from <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:TeinopalpusImperatrix_416.jpg>

20Photo by Sarefo. CC BY-SA 3.0 Deed. Resized and Changed Format. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved from <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Papilio.hospiton.mounted.jpg>

21Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region. CC BY 2.0 Deed. Resized and Changed Format. Flickr. Retrieved <https://flickr.com/photos/41464593@N02/14356348121>

22Photo by Atylotus. CC BY-SA 4.0 Deed. Resized and Changed Format. Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved from <https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Parides_hahneli030179.jpg>

23Photo by rbu1249. Pixabay. Retrieved from <https://pixabay.com/photos/caterpillar-swallowtail-insect-1548379/>

24Photo by MajitoPanquesito. Pixabay. Retrieved from <https://pixabay.com/photos/swallowtail-butterfly-butterfly-8272803/>

25Species Information Image: Tiger swallowtail butterfly perched on orange flower in close up photography during daytime Photo by Robert Zunikoff. (2020, September 24) / Unsplash License. Cropped and added text, shape, and background elements. Unsplash. Retrieved February 26, 2024, from <https://unsplash.com/photos/tiger-swallowtail-butterfly-perched-on-orange-flower-in-close-up-photography-during-daytime-iB2veN2LFFs>