Post last updated: August 3rd, 2020

The Eastern Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) strongly resembles the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly and Spicebush Swallowtail. It ranges from the middle of New Hampshire and across to North Dakota, south to Florida then across the United States as far as New Mexico, down into Mexico and South America. It does not fly in the western mountains or the Pacific Coast.

Eastern Black Swallowtail
Photo by Cee


Eastern Black Swallowtail
Eastern Black Swallowtail



They prefer tropical temperatures and are usually found in open areas like gardens, meadows, fields, lowlands, parks, marshes or deserts.



The Eastern Black Swallowtail has black forewings with a row of cream to yellow colored spots at the edge, a row of small blue spots above those, and then another row of cream to yellow spots extending out to the wing edge. The female will have a larger number of blue spots than the male. Both male and female have black bodies with white polka dots. The underside of the wing will have two rows of orange spots with a smudge of blue between the rows. Wingspan is 2.6 to 3.5 inches.

Eastern Black Swallowtail
Eastern Black Swallowtail
Photo by Cee


Black Swallowtail-1800
Female Black Swallowtail and Gulf Fritillary above it.


Courtship lasts for 45 seconds and mating can last up to 45 minutes. The egg is creamy and round, not always laid on the underside of a leaf. The female lays 30 to 50 eggs per day, up to 400 eggs per season. After 4 to 10 days, the caterpillar stage begins and lasts for 3 to 4 weeks followed by 18 days as a chrysalis. The adult butterfly lives for 6 to 14 days.

Very young brown with red highlights and white saddle Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillar
Very young Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillar before it turns green
Photo by Cee


According to Cee, the caterpillar you see here is “changing his clothes.” He is in the third instar of his life cycle. Those stages are first instar, second instar, third instar, pre-chrysalis, early chrysalis, and late chrysalis.

Eastern Black Swallowtail 3rd instar
Photo by Cee


Eastern Black Swallowtail late chrysalis
Photo by Cee



Please consider growing host and nectar plants in your garden. The same plants that attract the butterflies will attract other pollinators needed for your own food.

Host plants — Carraway, Carrots, Celery, Dill, Fennel, Parsley (cultivated or native), Queen Anne’s Lace and Rue.

Nectar plants — Butterfly Bush (Buddleja), Clover (Trifolium), Daylilies (Hemerocallis), Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum), Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia), Milkweed (Asclepias), Phlox, Penta (Pentas lanceolata), Porter Weed (Stachytarpheta jamaicensis), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Thistle (Verbenaceae), and Zinnia (Zinnia elegans).


  1. I’ve been meaning to tell you, you can tell the female Tigers by the underside of the wings, besides the size. They look like the underside of the male Tigers except for the color. Prounounced veins noted. The one I saw yesterday did not wait for me to go for a camera. I might have pics from prior years.

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