Swallowtail Butterflies Identification Guide

picture of a Clodius parnassian butterfly

Papilionidae, or the swallowtail butterflies, large butterflies characterized by extended tail-like appendages, formally divide into two subfamilies, Parnassiinae, Papilioninae.

A less formal way to think about swallowtail butterflies is by connecting them to geographical distributions.

Parnassians, for example are a wide ranging subfamily that fly over over much of the extreme northern hemisphere. They can even be found in the cold of Alaska. Five North American species are recognized.

The Fluted Swallowtails or members of the Papilio genus are the most wide spread of all the swallowtail species. About two dozen species have been documented and at least one or two can be found in every state.

A couple of subtropical species from different swallowtail genera are also familiar to most Americans. Please click the Swallowtail Pictures button for additional pictures and information on the species in the Papilio genus. The remainder of this page presents the northern and subtropical swallowtail species.

picture of an Eversmann's Parnassian butterfly
Most species share some physical characteristics. The majority have white color or translucent wings highlighted by black and/or red markings.

The top picture shows a Clousius Parnassian. The second picture shows an Eversmann’s Parnassian.

Contrary to swallowtail butterfly trends, their wings are often tailless.

picture of a Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly
Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies (Battus philenor) are one of two native Battus species. They are primarily a neotropical genera. Sometimes the relatives Cattlehearts will stray into Arizona.

The Pipevine swallowtail range extends across the entire Eastern United States and along the entire Southern border where ever Pipevine grows.

As one of the handful of dark winged swallowtails, they can be difficult to identify. Note the one row of orange spots along the underwing and the white spots or dots on the abdomen. Those are two good field identification clues to differentiate them from the Spicebush Swallowtail, which is also shares a similar Eastern range.

picture of a Polydamus Swallowtail  butterfly
Polydamus Swallowtail butterflies are the other Battus species. A side view of the butterfly shows an orange or yellow line of marks down the side of the abdomen.

Florida and Texas are their primary ranges, so they don’t get confused with the other dark winged swallowtail butterflies as much.

picture of a Zebra Swallowtail  butterfly
Zebra Swallowtails (Eurytides marcellus) are part of a neotropical genera of Swallowtails. Their larvae feed on the Pawpaw tree and can be found in most of the South and a bit further north, where ever the host plant grows.

Black stripes on a white background easily explain the common name.

Every once in awhile a stray relative the Dark Kite-Swallowtail will stray into South Texas.

Swallowtail Caterpillars

picture of a swallowtail butterfly caterpillar with eye spots
Swallowtail caterpillars also stir the lenses of butterfly photographers. They are often big and colorful, or down right zany looking, with eye spots like the specimen in the picture.

picture of a black swallowtail butterfly caterpillar with eye spots
All caterpillars go through phases and change their looks. This is a mature form of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar

picture of a spicebush swallowtail butterfly caterpillar
Here’s a mature form of the Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly.