The Swallowtail -- A Beautiful Butterfly

Swallowtail butterflies are some of the most beautiful butterflies found anywhere. The North American species are large, brightly colored butterflies with tailed, rear wings. There are more than 600 species worldwide with only about 30 of those living in North America. They have wingspans of 2 to 5 inches long.

Most swallowtails belong to four general subgroups. These groups are the Black Swallowtails ( Papilio spp.), Giant Swallowtails ( Heraclides spp.), Tiger Swallowtails (Pterourus spp.), and Pipevine Swallowtails ( Battus spp.). The Zebra Swallowtails belong to another group, Eurytides.

The Black Swallowtails are black with yellow spots or broad yellow bands. Their caterpillars usually feed on plants in the carrot family such as Queen Anne's lace, parsley, or cow parsnip. North American members of this family include Eastern Black, Desert, Short-tailed, Western Black, Oregon, and Anise.

Giant Swallowtails are brown and yellow in color. Their caterpillars prefer citrus plants and trees, torchwood, prickly ash, and pepper plants, In North America you can find Thoas, Giant or Orange Dog, Schaus', and Ruby-spotted members of this group.

The Tiger Swallowtails are colored just as their name suggests, yellow with black stripes. You will find their caterpillars feeding on deciduous trees. They probably have the greatest variety of host plants, but their favorites include willow, cottonwood, birch, ash, poplar, sycamore and cherry trees. The Tiger, Western Tiger, Two-tailed Tiger, Pale Tiger, Spicebush or Green Cloud, and Palamedes all live in North America.

Pipevine Swallowtails are usually blackish in color. Their caterpillars eat pipe vines, aristolochias, which are woody vines with sharp smelling roots. This food makes most of these butterflies not very tasty to most predators. North American species include the Blue Swallowtail and the Gold Rim.

Zebra Swallowtails are aptly named for their color, which resembles that of a zebra, white with black stripes. There are only two members of this group in North America the Zebra and the Dark Zebra Swallowtail. You'll find their caterpillars on pawpaws and other members of the Asimina species. Because of this very specialized host plant, the Zebra numbers have dropped rapidly in recent years.

Have you seen a swallowtail recently?

Christi Vega is the author of "The Joy and Serenity of Creating A Butterfly Garden". Go to to learn how you can create a beautiful garden that attracts these marvel winged creatures to your home.

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