Wisconsin's Swallowtail Butterflies
The sight of a swallowtail in the garden is always exciting. Big and flashy, swallowtail butterflies
are a delight in the butterfly garden. The forked appearance in some of the swallowtails' hindwings,
which can be seen when the butterfly is resting with its wings spread, gave rise to the common
There are 7 swallowtail species native to Wisconsin.
Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) larvae are often known as “parsley caterpillars” since
that’s one of their most common host plants. They also host on dill, fennel, Queen Anne’s Lace,
and common rue. This swallowtail butterfly is common in Wisconsin.You can tell males from
females as females have a band of irridescent blue on
their hindwings, while males have a band of yellow instead.
Canadian Tiger Swallowtail
The graceful sailing flight of a Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio canadensis, against the blue sky is a lovely sight, and though
they’re more frequently found in wooded areas (they generally host on trees), they’re common in the flower garden
too. The Canadian Tiger Swallowtail is a very common and conspicuous butterfly of northern
Wisconsin. It is replaced in the south by its close relative, the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio glaucus, is a very common and conspicuous butterfly of
southern Wisconsin. This swallowtail butterfly inhabits wooded areas and open areas near
Giant Tiger Swallowtail
The Giant Swallowtail, Papilio cresphontes, is the largest swallowtail
with a wingspan of up to 6 inches. This butterfly is dark on the topsides of their wings
and bright yellow on the bottom. This allows them better camouflage against predators.
Giant Swallowtails lay eggs on citrus trees, as well as prickly ash and common rue.
Their caterpillars also display excellent camouflage, looking exactly like fresh bird
Pipevine Swallowtails, Battus philenor, are found throughout Wisconsin. They host on
pipevines (Aristolochia sp), as their name indicates, and males are a beautiful iridescent
blue (females are a duller black). They lay bright red eggs in groups on their host plants,
and their caterpillars are extremely fast moving.
Spicebush Swallowtails, Papilio troilus, are very similar to the Black Swallowtail. You can easily
tell a Spicebush Swallowtail from a Black Swallowtail because Black Swallowtails have a tiny
black dot in the orange circle at the base of their lower wing. As the name might suggest, this
swallowtail butterfly hosts on Spicebush, as well as red bay, camphor, sweet bay, and tulip
tree. Their caterpillars are leaf-rollers, and have large eyespots to scare off predator.
Probably the most spectacular of the swallowtail butterflies, the Zebra Swallowtail,
Protographium marcellus, is one of the rarest swallowtail butterflies for most of us, since it’s usually
only found in great numbers where its host plant, pawpaw (Asimina sp.) also thrives. Though one of
the smaller swallowtails, the long tails and distinctive zebra striping make this butterfly a stunning sight.
Where pawpaw grows in groves, this butterfly will be very common.