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.
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.
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.
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.
WHAT TO PLANT FOR THE EASTERN BLACK SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLY
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).