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 name swallowtail.

There are 7 swallowtail species native to Wisconsin.

Black Swallowtail, Papilio polyxenes
Black Swallowtail

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, Papilio canadensis
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.

Canadian Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio canadensis
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 woodlands.

Giant Swallowtail, Papilio cresphontes
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 droppings.

Pipevine Swallowtail, Battus  philenor
Pipevine Swallowtail

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 Swallowtail, Papilio trailus
Spicebush Swallowtail

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.

Zebra Swallowtail butterfly, Eurytides marcellus
Zebra Swallowtail

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.

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