Swallowtail Butterflies and Birdwings - Papilionidae Family

Swallowtail Butterfly Flying
Photo: Cindy Underwood

Swallowtail butterflies have tail-like appendages on their hind wings, also referred to as tail-streamers. Not all species in this family have these tails. You may see many where tails on wings are gone. These tails tear off easily and often happens due to a predators attack.

Around the world there are about 600 of these species, with a little less than 40 that inhabit North America. They are known for their large size.

  • The huge Queen Alexandra's birdwing is a member of this family. They are found in the rainforest of Papua, New Guinea. Its wingspan can be as large as one foot. Queen Alexandra's Birdwing is becoming a rare species mostly due to loss of habitat but they also have been sought out by collectors to. With about 30 species in the birdwing sub-family, most are localized in parts of southern Asian and Australia, New Zealand and surrounding islands.

Another rare feature to only the caterpillars of this Papilionidae family is that they have a forked organ behind their head called Osmeterium. This Y-shaped organ will swell and push itself out then emit a pungent chemical when it is feeling threatened by predators.  The butterfly host plants page has a video showing the gardener a neat trick to expose the osmeteria.

Another interesting note regarding this family of butterfly species: Because of the larger size, most Papilionidae beat their wings relatively slowly at about 4-5 times a second. Other butterfly families beat their wings anywhere from 5-12 times a second.

Below are some more common types:

  • Yellow Swallowtails - Found in Northern Hemisphere
  • Kite - Found in Venezuela
  • Black Swallowtails - North and South America
  • Scarce - Predominately found in Europe
  • Tailed jay - Found in Indonesia
  • Birdwings - Found in Southeast Asia, Australia, surrounding areas.
  • Tiger Swallowtails - Found in North America

Other butterflies you may have heard of in this family are the Polydamas, Pipevine, Great Yellow Mormon, Giant, Jamaican Giant, Oregon, Orchard, Schaus, Scarlet, Spicebush, Citrus, Ulysses, Zebra and Two-tailed.

Pictures of Swallowtail Butterflies

The word papilio is Latin and the French equivalent is papillon
Both mean butterfly.

Photo: John Braid

Cairns Birdwing Butterfly
(Ornithoptera euphorion)

Located in Australia,
host plant is Aristolochia Tagale, or Dutchman's Pipe.

There are anywhere from 30 to 40 species of Birdwing Butterflies all which are named for their large, angled wings. 

Also having flight patterns similar to birds, these are considered to be some of the largest butterflies in the world.

Birdwings are found throughout India, Southeast Asia and Australia.

Below is the Golden Birdwing (Troides aeacus)

Photo: Nutthawit Wiangya

Having a wingspan of approximately 6 inches (15 centimeters),
butterfly is found in Southeast Asia on down throughout Australia.

Papilio machaon or
Old World Swallowtail. 

Also referred to as 'Common Yellow Swallowtail' because
it is found in Europe, Asia & North America.

Photo: Irina Bekulova
Photo: Peter Leahy

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio cresphontes) is found in various parts of North and South America. 

Wingspan averages 5 inches (13 centimeters)
and caterpillars feed on a variety of host plants.

Photo: Percent

Lemon Swallowtail
(Papilio demoleus)

Also called 'Common Lime Swallowtail', butterfly is  considered a pest and can be invasiveHost plants are primarily citrus sources also calling it 'Citrus Swallowtail'.

Papilio demoleus is found Europe, Asia, Africa, Central America and Caribbean.  This butterfly is one of the exceptions where there are no tail-like appendages and it's shape is more of a Brushfooted butterfly.  Coloring, however, definitely is that of a Swallotail.  FYI:  Picture on top of Brushfooted Butterfly page is of a true Citrus Swallowtail.

Photo: Florian Teodor Andronache

Zerynthia polyzena or Southern Festoon Butterfly. Wings average 2.5 inches (6 centimeters).

Similar to the Spanish Festoon, the Southern Festoon is found in middle to southern Europe in open, sunny areas.  Butterfly host plants are a variety of Dutchman's Pipe.

Palamedes Swallowtail
(Papilio palamedes)

Also known as Laurel Swallowtail because of chosen host plants.  This butterfly is found in North America along the southern border states.

Photo: Jason P. Ross

Emerald Peacock (Papilio palinurus) also known as Banded Peacock Butterfly.

Found in Southeast Asia when flying in with the sun reflecting from their wings, the butterfly sparkles like an emerald jewel.

Photo: Ryan Jaime

Just as we are fascinated with the Blue Morpho Butterfly wings (see picture),  the Emerald Peacock has the same setae structure regarding their butterfly colors, only base colors are yellow and blue.

Photo: Blueiris07

Tailed Jay Butterfly (Graphium agamemnon)

Found in India, South- east Asia and Australia and has many host plants.   Wingspan is approximately 2.5 inches (6 centimeters). 

Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly (Battus philenor)
also called the Blue Swallowtail.

Photo: Phase4Photography

Like the Monarch Butterfly, this papilionidae as caterpillars
feed on poisonous host plants making them fowl tasting to
predators both as larvae and adults.  Pipevine's can be found
in mountains and forest areas of North and Central America.

Australian Orchard Swallowtail
(Papilio aegeus)

Found mostly in eastern Austrailia, the Orchard Swallowtail is also called 'Citrus Swallowtail'.  This is a large butterfly with an average wingspan of 5-1/2 inches (20 centimeters).

Photo: Byron Byrne

Papilio memnon or the Great Mormon Papilio memnon.

Photo: Matee Nuserm

Averaging a 5 inch wingspan (13 centimeters), this butterfly
is found in Southern Asia down through Australia. 

Both the Great and Common Mormon have
host plants in Rutaceae family, the Common is more diverse.

Photo: Steve Allen

Papilio polytes or Common Mormon

Found throughout Asia, female's of this species are known for applying different forms of mimicry.

Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly (Eurytides marcellus)
Found in North America, this long-tailed butterfly
wingspan averages just under 4 inches (10 centimeters).

Photo: Brandi Pierce

  Because of it's host plants, Zebra is also called the Pawpaw Butterfly.  It's highly unlikely you'll see these in your butterfly garden as
their trap lining is more wooded areas.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail - male

Photo: William Perry

Eastern Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio glaucus) are native to North America.  These strong fliers are very common throughout the eastern part of the country and have a variety of host plants.

Photo: Sireagle

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly - female

While males are only yellow there are
two morphed forms of the female - yellow and bluish-black.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly - female

Photo: Leerobin

Related Articles:

Nymphalidae Family - This is also the Brushfooted Butterfly Family.
Little White Butterflies - Also known as Yellows and Sulphurs - Pieridae Family
Metalmark Butterfly - Also known as the Jewelmark Butterfly from the Riodinidae family.
Skipper Butterfly - Also known as the Hesperiidae family of Butterflies.

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