Black Swallowtail

Papilio polyxenes

Summary 5

The (Eastern) Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes), also called the American Swallowtail or Parsnip Swallowtail, is a butterfly found throughout much of North America. It is involved in the mimicry complex of the Pipevine Swallowtail.

Description 6

Adult black swallowtails range in length from seven to nine cm, and can reach a wingspan of 11.5 cm.

The upper surface of an adult is black with two rows of yellow spots past the middle or median of the wing. In females these yellow spots are narrow and lighter, or nonexistent as is the case in North America where they can mimic Battus philenor (pipevine swallowtails). On the upper surface of the adults' hind wing, there are irridescent blue spots on males and an irridescent blue band on females. On the upperside of the hind wing there is a large red spot that has a black center towards the tail. Under the forewing there are yellow spots, and on the underside of the hind wing there are a row of orange-red spots, in front of blue caps, followed by black centered red spots towards the tail.

Larva Description 5

Young larvae are mostly black and white with a saddle, and older larvae are green with black transverse bands containing yellow spots (Fig. 4).

Host plants 7

The larvae of the Black Swallowtail are attracted to the oils of plants such as dill, parsley, celery, carraway and carrots. These plants have adapted to insects herbivores by producing specific chemicals that repel the insects that try to eat them. Blacks Swallowtail larvae are resistant to these chemicals and make the caterpillar bad-tasting to Aves predators. The larva are most often found at small flowers. Adults feed on flower nectar and mud.

Plant Foods: leaves; nectar; flowers

GTM Occurrence 8

The Black Swallowtail is considered rare with observations in the open habitat (Transect A), Marsh Pond Overlook (Transect B), and the Glasswort Loop (Transect C). The species has been sighted in February, April, June, and September. There have been 5 specimens observed as of December 28, 2015.

Distribution 5

Papilio polyxenes are found from southern Canada through to South America. In North America they are more common east of the Rocky Mountains. They are usually found in open areas like fields, parks, marshes or deserts, and they prefer tropical or temperate habitats.

Habitat 9

Black swallowtails tend to be found in open areas such as meadows, fields, parks, gardens, lowlands, marshes, and deserts.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical

Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune ; savanna or grassland

Wetlands: marsh

Comments: Almost all open spaces, including gardens, farmland, meadows, banks of watercourses; in open woodlands mostly in spring. Breeding habitats include almost any open to sparsely wooded situation with foodplant umbellifers.

Nature serve conservation status 10

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

Other Considerations: Benefits greatly from human clearing of land.

Sources and Credits

  1. (c) D. Gordon E. Robertson, some rights reserved (CC BY-SA), http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Black_Swallowtail,_male,_Ottawa.jpg
  2. (c) Adam Skowronski, some rights reserved (CC BY-ND), https://www.flickr.com/photos/adam_skowronski/9843582616/
  3. (c) John Flannery, some rights reserved (CC BY-SA), https://www.flickr.com/photos/drphotomoto/8261671538/
  4. (c) TexasEagle, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC), https://www.flickr.com/photos/texaseagle/7176953666/
  5. Adapted by GTMResearchReserve from a work by (c) Wikipedia, some rights reserved (CC BY-SA), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papilio_polyxenes
  6. Adapted by GTMResearchReserve from a work by (c) The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC-SA), http://eol.org/data_objects/31412833
  7. Adapted by GTMResearchReserve from a work by (c) The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC-SA), http://eol.org/data_objects/25066210
  8. (c) GTMResearchReserve, some rights reserved (CC BY-SA)
  9. Adapted by GTMResearchReserve from a work by (c) The Regents of the University of Michigan and its licensors, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC-SA), http://eol.org/data_objects/31412832
  10. (c) NatureServe, some rights reserved (CC BY-NC), http://eol.org/data_objects/28748811

More Info

iNat Map

Category name rare
Member of the iNaturalist Network   |   Powered by iNaturalist open source software |   Documentation for developers