Black Swallowtail

Black Swallowtail Papilio polyxenes

Type of Animal:
Swallowtail Butterfly

Fields, open parks, meadows, prairie, open flatwoods, pine savanna, open roadsides, open weedy areas, gardens, farmland, urban landscapes, open suburbs, open marshes, desert, sunny backyards, open wetlands, open lowland areas, patches w/ Apiaceae (umbellifers) and/or citrus

Ranges from S Canada all the way to South America

Large mostly black butterfly w/ noticeable tail (similar to a swallow). Males have band of bright yellow spots crossing outer part of each upperside wing as well as row of yellow dots/dashes bordering wings. Females only display yellow band very faintly if at all. Females have wide blue swath, males have blue on topside hindwing. Both sexes have black underside w/ 2 rows of yellow-orange spots across wings. Caterpillars go through 5 instars (development phases)-1st instar resembles bird poop being brown w/ white saddle. 2nd & 3rd instars black w/ red/orange spikes & white band around middle. 4th instar striped/banded. 5th instars have green/black bands w/ yellow spots along black bands.

Adults eat nectar. Caterpillars eat Queen Anne’s lace/cow parsley, celery plants, parsley, carrot plants, dill, parsnip plants, fennel, Texas turpentine, cilantro, chervil, lovage, caraway, turnips, rue, anise, & citrus plants.

Status in Wild:

Breeding in butterfly gardens, zoos, aquariums, & museums

Adults solitary or in small groups. Caterpillars solitary or in very small groups.

Additional Info:

Young: Caterpillar
Group: Flutter

Male: 0.6 g
Female: 0.7 g

4-10 days

Life Span:
5 weeks-7 months

Body Length/Wingspan:
Male: 2.5-3 in
Female: 3.5-4 in
Caterpillar: 1.8 in

Main predators are predatory insects, spiders, birds, centipedes, mantids, amphibians, lizards, bats, & rodents.

Females lay 1 egg per host plant. Eggs hatch after 4-10 days. Caterpillar stage lasts 1.5-4 weeks, in which they go through 5 instars (development phases). After 5th instar, they enter pupal (chrysalis stage) which lasts 10-20 days (overwintering pupae can last a little more than 6 months). After pupal stage, they transform into butterflies. This stage lasts 6-30 days. 

These butterflies can breed more than once.

Courtship lasts for about 45 seconds, in which both sexes flap wings rapidly. Then they travel 65-66 ft to breed. Mating lasts 30-45 minutes.

Fun Fact(s):
State butterfly of Oklahoma.

Caterpillars can cause significant damage since many favored host plants are cultivated by people.

Caterpillars use camouflage as well as stinky fluid from forked orange osmeteria behind head to deter predators. Adults mimic coloration of poisonous Pipevine Swallowtail.

Also called Eastern Black Swallowtail, American Swallowtail, American Black Swallowtail, Parsnip Swallowtail, & Parsley Swallowtail. Caterpillars called Parsley Worms, Celeryworms, Parsley Caterpillars, & Caraway Worms due to love for these plants.

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