Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

Characteristics

The Eastern Black Swallowtail butterfly is a common visitor to open fields and farmlands, and frequently seen in urban landscapes. It can be seen from the Gulf of Mexico to southern Canada, from the Atlantic seaboard westward to Arizona, Southern California, Colorado, and North Dakota.

It features black wings with rows of yellow spots, separated by blue scaling.

It is similar to the Pipevine Swallowtail, Spicebush Swallowtail, and Palamedes Swallowtail but wing patterns are somewhat different. See our page that helps to identify common black-colored swallowtails.

The typical size is in the 2.5" - 4.0" range.

Identification of Male and Female Black Swallowtail Butterflies

A side-by-side comparison of the male and female Black Swallowtail is shown below. The male features a large row of yellow-colored spots across the middle of its wings. The feamle has smaller spots, but a larger area of blue scales on the lower wings.

Comparison of the male and female Black Swallowtail Butterfly

 

Nectar and Host Plants Used by the Black Swallowtail

Among the favorite nectar plants of the Black Swallowtail are milkweed, clover, thistles, others.

Its favorite host plants include dill, fennel, parsley, carrots, and celery.

Black Swallowtail Life Cycle: The Eggs Are Laid

The female will lay up from 200-430 pale yellow eggs, at a rate of about 30-50 per day. The eggs will turn a dark gray just before hatching, which takes about 10-13 days.

Their life span is usually about 10-12 days, but some can live up to 30 days or more.

Female Black Swallowtail butterfly laying eggs on dill
Female Black Swallowtail butterfly laying eggs on dill


Black Swallowtail eggs on dill

Black Swallowtail eggs on dill

Black Swallowtail egg on bronze fennel
Black Swallowtail egg on bronze fennel


Black Swallowtail Life Cycle: From Eggs to Caterpillars

Young Black Swallowtail caterpillar with "saddle bag" markings
Young Black Swallowtail caterpillar with "saddle bag" markings

Mature Black Swallowtail Caterpillar showing its green coloration with black bands and yellow spots
Mature Black Swallowtail Caterpillar showing its green coloration with black bands and yellow spots

Two Black Swallowtail Caterpillars feeding on Dill
Two Black Swallowtail Caterpillars feeding on Dill in East Texas

Five Black Swallowtail caterpillars feeding on Dill ... photography by a young butterfly enthusiast!
Five Black Swallowtail Caterpillars feeding on Dill

Black Swallowtail caterpillar ... the mostly black variety ... seen through the eyes and lens of a young nature lover
Black Swallowtail Caterpillar ... mostly black

 


Black Swallowtail Life Cycle: From Caterpillar to the Chrysalis

Black Swallowtail caterpillar preparing for the chrysalis ... doing the "J" position ...
an exciting moment for young, and older, butterfly watchers

Black Swallowtail caterpillar preparing for the chrysalis

Black Swallowtail caterpillar in its green chrysalis ... an exciting learning experience for young nature lovers
Black Swallowtail caterpillar in its green chrysalis


Brilliant green Black Swallowtail chrysalis

Brilliant green Black Swallowtail chrysalis

Black Swallowtail chrysalis ... hanging by a silk thread. The chrysalis will turn clear just before the butterfly is ready to hatch
Black Swallowtail chrysalis hanging by a thread

Empty chrysalis of a Black Swallowtail
Empty chrysalis of a Black Swallowtail

Black Swallowtail Life Cycle: From the Chrysalis to Adult

Black Swallowtail less than one hour old!
Black Swallowtail less than one hour old!

Black Swallowtail butterfly
Black Swallowtail

Black Swallowtail butterfly (ventral view) gathering nectar from a Milkweed flower
Black Swallowtail butterfly (ventral view) gathering nectar from a Milkweed flower


Overwintering Black Swallowtails

The Winter of 2013 was a long, cold season. We were glad to see the Spring of 2014 arrive, and to start seeing butterflies.

We were surprised in late March of 2014 with the emergence of three Black Swallowtail butterflies from the chrysalis they had been in since October of 2013.

In late September, 2013, we had gathered several caterpillars, and some of them hatched in the normal time frame. Others overwintered through temperatures as low as 15 degrees.

All are now free enjoying the mild spring of 2014!

The first Black Swallowtail butterfly to emerge from its chrysalis, on March 27, 2014, after overwintering
The first Black Swallowtail butterfly to emerge from its chrysalis, on March 27, 2014, after overwintering


The second Black Swallowtail butterfly to emerge from its chrysalis, on April 1, 2014, after overwintering

The second Black Swallowtail butterfly to emerge from its chrysalis, on April 1, 2014, after overwintering in Texas


The third Black Swallowtail butterfly to emerge from its chrysalis, on April 4, 2014, after overwintering

The third Black Swallowtail butterfly to emerge from its chrysalis, on April 4, 2014, after overwintering


The third Black Swallowtail butterfly to emerge from its chrysalis, on April 4, 2014 ... the weather was cool and windy, and it was reluctant to fly

The third Black Swallowtail butterfly to emerge from its chrysalis, on April 4, 2014, after overwintering


The third Black Swallowtail butterfly to emerge from its chrysalis, on April 4, 2014 ... it finally was able to fly, and experience the beautiful spring weather!

The third Black Swallowtail butterfly to emerge from its chrysalis, on April 4, 2014, after overwintering


Black Swallowtail Caterpillars ... YouTube Videos

Short YouTube Video of a Black Swallowtail caterpillar crawling fast
Photography by a young videographer who loves butterflies!


YouTube Video of a Black Swallowtail caterpillar eating lots of dill!

Photography by a young videographer and butterfly enthusiast!