Swallowtail Butterfly

April 16, 2014

The swallowtail butterfly gets its name from the “tails” on the back of their wings that resembled the forked tails of swallows. This can be seen when the butterfly is resting and its wings are spread.

Swallowtail butterflies have a wingspan of 2.6 to 3.5 inches with bluish-black and yellow-white wings. They will sometimes have additional red markings. A band of large yellow spots through both fore and hind wings are prominent in males. In females, these spots are more orange.

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The swallowtail butterfly undergoes four stages in its lifecycle: egg, larvae, pupa and butterfly. Young pupate develops inside a cocoon in the fall and emerges as butterflies in the spring. Once it has emerged as a butterfly, it immediately looks for a mate. The eggs are attached to the leaflets of a food plant and after 8 to 10 days young caterpillars emerge and start feeding. The caterpillars are smooth and large with an orange “horn” that is hidden under the skin of the thorax. This horn would pop when threatened by predators and secretes repellent chemicals.

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Adult swallowtails are strong fliers and hide in trees at night to avoid predators, they can also defend themselves with toxic chemicals but still, they can fall prey to frogs and toads, spiders, wasps, mantis, and insect eating birds. The caterpillars and pupa are often prey to shrews, mice, ants, parasitic flies, lady beetles, mites and green lacewings.

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Swallowtail butterflies live in open areas like fields, meadows, vacant lots, sides of streams, open forests and anywhere near their food plants and especially those with abundant flowers.

The Oregon Swallowtail is the state insect of Oregon. The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is the state insect of Virginia and the state butterfly of Georgia, Delaware, and South Carolina. The Black Swallowtail is the state butterfly of Oklahoma.

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