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14 Types of Swallowtail Butterflies (Pictures)

The various types of swallowtail butterflies are some of the most beautiful butterflies in the world. Each has its own unique look and behavior.

These butterflies all have brightly colored wings that often have elaborate patterns. In addition, they vary in size, with the giant swallowtail claiming the record for the largest butterfly in North America.

What is a swallowtail butterfly?

Swallowtail butterflies are a fascinating and diverse group of insects that are known for their large size and striking beauty. With over 550 species found on every continent except Antarctica, swallowtails are one of the most recognizable and beloved groups of butterflies in the world.

Why are they called swallowtail?

Swallowtails get their name from their forked “tail” off their hindwings. These tails look similar to the forked tails of swallow bird species. These tails are a distinctive physical feature of many species of swallowtail butterflies, although some species are tailless. The tails may serve a number of functions, such as helping to distract or confuse predators, or aiding in flight and maneuverability.

Swallowtails have a number of other distinctive features, such as the reversible horn-like organs behind the head known as osmeteria, which are bright yellow-orange in the Eastern black swallowtail. When threatened, larvae rear up, extrude the osmeterium, and attempt to smear the potential predator with a chemical repellent.

1. Spicebush Swallowtail

Spicebush swallowtail on a flower
Spicebush swallowtail on a flower | image by John Flannery via Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

Scientific name: Papilio troilus

The spicebush swallowtail is a common butterfly found on the Florida peninsula. It is one of the largest butterflies in North America.

The spicebush swallowtail caterpillar adapted to have false eyes on its back meant to scare predators away. This can explain their survival abilities.

The spicebush wingspan can grow to be 3 to 4 inches. Males’ wings have a green-blue splotch, and females have bright blue splotch in the shape of a half-moon on the hindwings.

2. Western Tiger Swallowtail

Western tiger swallowtail
Western tiger swallowtail  | image by Carlos Eduardo Joos via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Papilio rutulus

Western tiger swallowtails are known for their bright colors and striking patterns in yellow with black stripes. They also have blue and orange spots near their tail.

The tiger swallowtail caterpillars are also fascinating, with fake eyes on their back that scare off predators. The caterpillar also has a long, thin tail that resembles a tiger’s tail.

These butterflies are often seen flying around during the daytime hours. They usually live in open areas near water and feed on nectar from flowers.

3. Black Swallowtail

black swallowtail butterfly
Black swallowtail butterfly

Scientific name: Papilio polyxenes

The black swallowtail, American swallowtail, or parsnip swallowtail is a common butterfly in North America. They are very graceful and often seen fluttering around flowers.

These butterflies are primarily attracted to flowers. However, they can also be seen feeding on nectar from other plants.

The black swallowtail butterfly has bright yellow and dark black wings. In addition, they have a dark brown or black body.

4. Pipevine Swallowtail

Pipevine swallowtail on a flower
Pipevine swallowtail on a flower | image by John Flannery via Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0
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Scientific name: Battus philenor

The pipevine swallowtail is a beautiful butterfly found throughout North America. Their habitat also extends to Central America.

Pipevine swallowtails are black with hindwings that are a vibrant iridescence blue. Females are duller in color. Pipevine swallowtail butterflies often flit around flowers in the wild in springtime. They feed on nectar and other sugary plants.

5. Giant Swallowtail

Giant swallowtail butterfly
Giant swallowtail butterfly | image by USFWS Midwest Region via Flickr

Scientific name: Papilio cresphontes

The giant swallowtail is the largest butterfly in North America. Females’ average wingspan range from 5.5 to 6.9 inches, and males’ average 5.8 to 7.4 inches.

Giant swallowtail butterflies are beautiful and can be seen during spring and summer. They are known for their bright yellow and black wings, as well as their long tails.

6. Zebra Swallowtail

zebra swallowtail butterfly
Zebra swallowtail butterfly

Scientific name: Protographium marcellus

The zebra swallowtail has wings that are white with black stripes, much like a zebra which is where it’s name comes from. 

They have a pair of tails off of their hindwings. Zebra swallowtails can be found throughout much of North America except for the arctic tundra. They are also found in parts of Central America and South America.

7. Old World Swallowtail

Old world swallowtail
Old world swallowtail | by Michele Lamberti via Flickr

Scientific name: Papilio machaon

The old world swallowtail has a large distribution and can be found in Europe, North America and Asia. It thrives in many types of habitats which speaks to why it has such a large distribution. 

They vary in color depending on location but are usually muted yellow and black in color. Their lower wings have a blue or red dot on the ends.

8. Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern tiger swallowtail on plants
Eastern tiger swallowtail on plants | image by Judy Gallagher via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Papilio glaucus

Eastern tiger swallowtails are some of the most beautiful butterflies in the world, and they are also some of the most widespread butterflies to see fluttering around flowers. Males have four black tiger stripes on yellow wings.

Dark-colored females can sometimes have small spots of orange on their undersides, like the males. Many dark-colored females will have black or dark gray colors instead of yellow ones. In addition, some females have blue markings on their hindwings in the yellow morph.

9. Red Helen Swallowtail

Red helen swallowtail
Red helen swallowtail  | image by Balakrishnan Valappil via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific name: Papilio helenus

The red Helen is a colorful butterfly throughout southeast Asia, including parts of India. The upper side of the male is black or brown.

The lower base of the wing is also sparsely speckled with golden-yellow scales. There is often a red spot towards the outer edge of the wing, sometimes forming a circle around a black spot. Females are duller in color.

10. Two-tailed Swallowtail

Two-tailed swallowtail
Two-tailed swallowtail | image by Bob Danley via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific name: Papilio multicaudata

The two-tailed swallowtail is typically found in open, sunny areas throughout western North America. It feeds on nectar from flowers and can be found near streams and rivers.

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The two-tailed swallowtail is primarily black, with a series of blue and yellow stripes running the length of its wings and a blue tail. The two-tailed swallowtail is a large butterfly. It has a wingspan of about 3.5 inches up to over 5 inches.

11. Anise Swallowtail

Anise swallowtail  perched on a flower
Anise swallowtail  perched on a flower | image by Allan Hack via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific name: Papilio zelicaon

The anise swallowtail is a brightly colored butterfly found throughout much of western North America except in Arizona and New Mexico. The anise swallowtail is a gentle butterfly that prefers to feed on nectar from flowers.

The butterfly is typically found near gardens, fields, and orchards. The wings of the anise swallowtail are vibrant black, blue and yellow. They also have black tips on the wings.

12. Laurel Swallowtail

Laurel swallowtail
Laurel swallowtail | image by Renee Grayson via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Papilio palamedes

The laurel swallowtail is a dark butterfly marked by its yellow spots and bands. They live around swampy areas and along the shores of ponds in the southeastern US.

Laurel swallowtail butterflies are also common visitors to gardens and flowerbeds. They sip nectar from flowers and spread pollen to help with pollination.

When the male butterfly finds a female, they fly around for a short time before mating. Males will patrol along forest edges and forest openings to find females.

Laurel swallowtail wings are black with orange stripes and a yellow band. In addition, they have blue and yellow on their hindwings.

13. Common Peacock

Scientific name: Papilio bionar

The common peacock, also known as the Chinese peacock butterfly is a striking butterfly with blue and green details on their wings, which is how they get their name. They are native to Asia and can be found in a diverse array of different habitat types. 

In addition to the blue and green on their wings, these butterflies have black lobes on their hindwings with red eyespots. 

14. Ulysses Butterfly

Scientific name: Papilio ulysses

Ulysses butterfly | image by AUTHOR via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

The Ulysses butterfly is a brilliantly colored butterfly native to Australasia. This butterfly has incredible bright blue wings with black edges and tails. They are fairly large butterflies, with a wingspan of between 5 and 6 inches.

Males and females are colored differently, the females have blue on the top corners of their wings while the males have black there. This coloring on the wingtips attracts the males which are drawn to the blue.