black swallowtail

(Papilio polyxenes)

Conservation Status
black swallowtail
  IUCN Red List

not listed


N5 - Secure

S5 - Secure


not listed


Black swallowtail is a mimic of the unpalatable pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor). It is the state butterfly of Oklahoma.

Adults have a wingspan of 3¼ to 4¼. Females are larger than males.

The upper side of the forewing is black with two rows of yellow spots, one on the submarginal band, one on the median band. Both rows of spots extend to the forward (costal) margin of the wing. There is also a narrow, interrupted, yellow border on the outer margin, and a single yellow spot in the area just below the tip (subapical area). On the male, the medial spots are large and closely spaced. On the female they are narrow and widely spaced.

The upper side of the hindwing is black with a marginal row of yellow spots, a postmedial row of iridescent blue spots, a median row of yellow spots, and a narrow, interrupted, yellow border on the outer margin. There is also a single eye-spot on the trailing margin near the tail. The eyespot is orange with a black pupil and a yellow border. On the male, the blue postmedial spots are small, and the yellow medial spots are large and closely spaced. On the female the blue postmedial spots are large, and the yellow medial spots are narrow and widely spaced. The hindwings have “tails”.

The underside of the forewing is black with yellow markings mirroring those on the upper side. The underside of the hindwing is black with markings mirroring those on the upper side except that many of the yellow spots are partially or completely replaced with orange spots.

The eyes are black.

The mature (fifth instar) caterpillar is variable in color and up to 2 long. It appears smooth but is actually densely covered with minute hairs. The background color is usually green but may be white, yellow, brown and white, or black. The color is determined by the wavelength of light reaching the larva when it is in the first instar stage. This color polymorphism allows the caterpillar to match the background color of the host site. The thorax is swollen and the head is held beneath the thorax. The thorax of the green form caterpillar is green with 2 black stripes in an inverted “V” pattern and 3 black spots. Each abdominal segment is green with a broad, horizontal black band. In each black band there are 6 yellow spots. There is also a narrow black band in the fold between abdominal segments. The legs are greenish-white with 2 black spots. Mature caterpillars are found from June onward.

The pupa may be green or brown. The color varies between individuals of a local population, achieving a balance that ensures maximum survival.

There is a Y-shaped gland (osmeterium) in the middle of the upper (dorsal) portion of the first abdominal segment of the caterpillar. Normally, the osmeterium is held internally and is not visible. It secretes a chemical that produces a foul odor and repels predators. The secreted chemical may also be toxic to predators. When disturbed, the caterpillar will extend (evert) the gland, turning it inside-out, and attempt to smear the predator with the chemical.




Wingspan: 3¼ to 4¼


Similar Species

  Eastern tiger swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) has a black form female that looks similar. However, it has only one row of yellow spots on the upper side of the forewing and there is no yellow subapical spot.  

Meadows, fields, suburbs, and other open areas.




Two broods: mid-May to mid-June and mid-July to early September






Life Cycle


Mating usually takes place on a hilltop. The female lays small yellow eggs singly on a leaf or flower of a host plant. She will lay 30 to 50 eggs per day, eventually laying 200 to 440 eggs. The larva hatches 4 to 9 days later. Over the next 10 to 30 days it molts 4 times before pupating. It overwinters as a chrysalis.


Larva Hosts


Queen Anne’s lace, wild parsnip, spotted water hemlock, bland sweet cicely, American cow parsnip, and other members of the Apiaceae (carrot) family.


Adult Food


Flower nectar, especially clover.


Distribution Map



7, 20, 21, 24, 29, 30, 71, 82.






Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths)  




  Parvorder Heteroneura  
  No Rank Ditrysia  
  No Rank Obtectomera  


Papilionoidea (butterflies [excluding skippers])  


Papilionidae (swallowtails)  


Papilioninae (swallowtails)  


Papilionini (fluted swallowtails)  



Subordinate Taxa


black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes asterius)

desert black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes coloro)

black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes polyxenes)






Common Names


black swallowtail









The pupa (third) stage of a butterfly or moth during which the caterpillar metamorphoses into an adult. In moths, the pupa is enclosed in a silk cocoon. In butterflies, the pupa is naked but protected by a hardened outer shell.


Costal margin

The leading edge of the forewing of insects.



The developmental stage of arthropods between each molt; in insects, the developmental stage of the larvae or nymph.



The life stage of some insects undergoing transformation. In caterpillars, the chrysalis.


Subapical area

In insects, the region just before the tip of the wing.























Visitor Photos

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Dan W. Andree

Black Swallowtail's on Milkweed...

These 2 Swallowtails were at a Scientific and Natural Area in Norman County early Summer 2020. I think it was part of the Twin Valley Prairie Preserve.

  black swallowtail   black swallowtail

Black Swallowtail from 4k video...

  black swallowtail    
Alfredo Colon
  black swallowtail   black swallowtail
Tom Baker
  black swallowtail   black swallowtail
  black swallowtail   black swallowtail


  black swallowtail   black swallowtail
  black swallowtail   black swallowtail

Fifth instar caterpillar

  black swallowtail   black swallowtail
  black swallowtail    



  Eastern Black Swallowtail
Andree Reno Sanborn
  Eastern Black Swallowtail  

Papilio polyxenes

  Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes asterius)
Bill Keim
  Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes asterius)  
  Papilio polyxenes (Black Swallowtail)
Allen Chartier
  Papilio polyxenes (Black Swallowtail)  
  Black Swallowtail
Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren
  Black Swallowtail  
  Black Swallowtail
  Black Swallowtail  

Published on Aug 30, 2013

This shows the different stages of a Black Swallowtail from caterpillar to Butterfly and all points in between.




Visitor Videos

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Other Videos
  Papilio polyxenes 2nd

Uploaded on Jul 18, 2011

No description available.

  Black Swallowtail

Published on Sep 23, 2013

Common Name: Black swallowtail
Scientific Name: Papilio polyxenes Stoll
Order: Lepidoptera

Description: The black swallowtail is a black butterfly with yellow markings near the margins of the forewings and hindwings and more limited blue and red markings on the hindwings. Its wing span can reach 4 ½ inches. Full grown parselyworms or caterpillars can reach 2 inches in length and are smooth and green, marked with black bands and yellow spots.

The black swallowtail mimics the bad tasting pipevine swallowtail, Battus philenor (Linnaeus), which is all metallic black-blue on the upper surface of the wings, lacking the yellow and blue markings. Caterpillars feed on pipevines, Dutchman's-pipe and Virginia snakeroot.

Life Cycle: Winter is spent in the chrysalis (pupa) stage. Adults emerge in the spring and seek host plants. Females lay round, yellow to cream colored eggs on the leaves. Caterpillars hatching from eggs are initially black with a white saddle. After molting several times, each larvae transforms into a pale green chrysalis that is suspended from a plant stem by a thread.

Habitat and Food Source(s): Caterpillars have chewing mouthparts. Adults have siphoning mouths. Host plants of the caterpillar include members of the parsley family (Umbelliferae) including carrot, parsley, dill, fennel and Queen Anne's lace and some members of the Rutaceae (Ruta graveolens and Thamnosma texana). This caterpillar is bad tasting to birds and other predators because of toxins absorbed from the host plants. Like other larvae of swallowtail butterflies, parselyworms have a defensive structure, called an osmeterium, right behind the head. This structure is usually concealed. However, when disturbed this "Y" or "V" shaped organ is inverted. It emits a strong odor that is apparently distasteful to predators. This butterfly is easy to attract and raise by planting dill or fennel in your vegetable garden.

Pest Status: Caterpillars feed on dill, fennel and some other plants; medically harmless.

  Kansas Black Swallowtail Pupating

Published on Jul 27, 2013

I spotted this fellow on my second year parsley which was going to seed. I've enjoyed seeing these caterpillars since i was a kid. They chow down on dill/parsley. This was the first opportunity i have had to see one turn in to a chrysalis.




Visitor Sightings

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Dan W. Andree
Early summer 2020

Location: Twin Valley Prairie SNA, Norman Co., Mn.

These 2 Swallowtails were at a Scientific and Natural Area in Norman County early Summer 2020. I think it was part of the Twin Valley Prairie Preserve.

black swallowtail

Dan W. Andree
June-July 2020

Location: Norman Co.

black swallowtail


Location: Minneapolis

A large, healthy-looking caterpillar is hanging out on our parsley on this 36-degree day.


Location: Crystal, MN 

Just found a mature swallowtail  caterpillar happily munching away on my parsley.

Alfredo Colon
Summer 2018

Location: Woodbury, Minnesota

black swallowtail

Beth Siverhus

Location: Warroad, MN

I had a black swallowtail in my yard in Warroad, MN for a short time 6/23/19. It was visiting the snow on the mountain flowers. I had never seen one before so it was quite a thrill. (I took photos for documentation and ID confirmation)


Location: Kasson, Dodge County

In the phlox garden


Location: Anoka, Minnesota

loving the cone flowers!!


Location: Park Rapids, MN Sightings




Created 10/10/2012

Last Updated:

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