Butterfly swallowtail

The Swallowtail Butterfly is one of the most beautiful diurnal butterflies in our mid-latitudes. The insect, due to its sophistication and exclusivity, is considered a desirable acquisition for collectors and lovers of moths. These amazing creatures are known to almost everyone. Bright colors and large sizes give the butterflies grace and uniqueness.

Origin of the species and description

Swallowtail Butterfly

Photo: Swallowtail Butterfly

The Papilio machaon species belongs to the Sailboat family (from lat. Papilionidae). The species was discovered by the Swedish naturalist in 1758, Carl Line. The biologist named the butterfly after the ancient Greek doctor Machaon, who was a therapist, surgeon and fought for the Greeks in the Trojan War (1194 BC). The doctor was the son of Asclepius (the god of healing) and Epione.

Interesting fact: There is a legend that Dr. Machaon healed warriors wounded in battles. He participated in the battle for Troy in order to get the hand and heart of Helen the Beautiful. But, when he dies in one of the battles, his soul turns into a beautiful yellow butterfly with a black pattern on the wings.

Since the range of the swallowtail is quite wide, up to 37 subspecies of the moth are distinguished . The most common among them are:

  • Orientis – south of Siberia;
  • Ussuriensis – Amur and Primorye;
  • Hippocrates – Japan, Sakhalin, Kuriles;
  • Amurensis – the basin of the middle and lower Amur;
  • Asiatica – Central Yakutia;
  • Kamtschadalus – Kamchatka;
  • Gorganus – Central Europe, the Caucasus;
  • Aliaska – North America;
  • Brutannicus Seitz – Great Britain;
  • Centralis – Caucasian coast of the Caspian Sea, Northern Caspian, Kura valley;
  • Muetingi – Elbrus;
  • Syriacus – Syria.

There are other subspecies, but scientists do not recognize many of them, considering them only seasonal forms, similar to nominative individuals. The dependence of the color of the wings on temperature does not allow taxonomists to come to a common opinion, as a result of which there are constant disputes on this topic. The appearance is similar to the Corsican sailboat and the Alexanor sailboat.

Appearance and Features


Photo: Swallowtail

The color of the swallowtail is bright and beautiful – yellow or beige. Above it is a pattern of black lines. The body size reaches 10 centimeters in females and 8 in males. The wingspan is from 6 to 10 centimeters, depending on the subspecies. On the outer edges of the wings there is a pattern of moon-shaped yellow spots.

On the hind wings are elongated tails, not adjacent to the abdomen. Their length can reach up to 10 millimeters. On the sides of the wings are framed by blue and yellow spots. On the inside of the wings is a red «eye». Lifespan is up to 24 days.

Video: Swallowtail Butterfly

Caterpillars hatch green with black stripes with many red dots. Their body length at birth is about 2 millimeters. In the prothoracic segment is the fork gland, which forms orange “horns”.

Interesting fact: “horns” serve as protection against natural enemies. The iron gives off an unpleasant odor that repels predators. Caterpillars lie curled up for most of the day. They disguise themselves as bird droppings so as not to attract the attention of birds.

Pupae may be gray or green. The last generation always hibernates in the pupal stage. An adult is born in the spring, when all frosts have passed. For the first half hour, they dry their wings and thaw, and then they scatter over the area.

So we figured out what the Swallowtail butterfly looks like. Now let’s find out where the swallowtail butterfly lives.

Where does the swallowtail butterfly live?

Butterfly Swallowtail

Photo: Swallowtail Butterfly

This species inhabits almost every corner of the Earth. You can meet insects in North America, in southern India, in North Africa, on the islands of the Indian Ocean, throughout Asia, in England, moths live only on the lands of Norfolk County and in the territory passing from the Arctic Ocean to the Black Sea.

Butterfly Machaon can live in almost any conditions, any climate suits it. The butterfly was met in the mountains of Tibet at an altitude of 4500 meters above sea level. Such a vast geographical distribution has led to such a wide list of subspecies.

Insects love open spaces, therefore fields, forest edges, steppes, gardens, tundras are preferred to polluted noisy cities. Moths can fly at a height of 2.5 to 4 meters. They do not stay on one plant for a long time, so naturalists called them energetic butterflies.

In the north of the range, these beautiful creatures can be found in the summer, in the southern regions the species is awake from May to September. Lepidoptera prefer not to migrate, but to stay for the winter in their native lands. Especially large concentrations are observed on lands sown with carrots, cumin, fennel, dill.

Subspecies Orientis prefers the southern climate, Asiatica – northern, Gorganus chose moderately warm. Brutannicus are lovers of wet environments, while Centralis and Rustaveli have chosen mountainous areas. In general, the species prefers sunny areas with an abundance of flowers.

What does the swallowtail butterfly eat?


Photo: Swallowtail

As soon as the birth takes place caterpillars, the insect immediately begins to eat the leaves of the plant on which the egg was laid. Caterpillars feed very actively, making a significant supply of energy at this stage. Most often, umbrella species become food for species in the middle lane, such as:

    • Parsley;
    • Dill;
    • Cumin;

Carrots (wild or common);

  • Hogweed;
  • Bouten;
  • Angel angelica;
  • Prangos;
  • Hogweed;
  • Fennel;
  • Cutter;
  • Celery;
  • Thigh;
  • Cutter;
  • Girchovnik.


Inhabitants of other regions feed on plants of the rue family – shaggy-fruited ash tree, Amur velvet, various types of whole leaf; Compositae: wormwood; birch: Maksimovich’s alder, Japanese alder. By the end of its development, the caterpillar’s appetite decreases and it practically does not eat.

Adults feed on nectar, like most other butterflies, thanks to their long black proboscises. They are not as picky eaters as caterpillars, so they choose not only umbrella plants. To find food for themselves, moths visit different flowers.

For adults, a large amount of food is not required, just a drop of flower nectar is enough for them, and they quench their thirst with morning dew. Lepidoptera get all the microelements necessary to maintain a tiny organism from soil containing salts, or from the waste products of other animals.

Peculiarities of character and lifestyle

Butterfly Swallowtail from the Red Book

Photo: Butterfly Swallowtail from the Red Book books

Butterflies are active during the daytime. They also pollinate flowers that bloom only during the day. Imago live only a few weeks and, after fertilization (males) and laying eggs (females), the moths die. The summer period lasts from May to June and in July-August, the southern subspecies can also be found in September.

Swallowtails are very mobile creatures. Even while feeding on nectar, they do not fold their wings in order to fly away at any second. Individuals prone to migration fly into cities and settle in park areas, garden plots, and lawns rich in flower plants.

To find the most comfortable conditions for existence and places with a good food supply, moths are ready to travel great distances. Most individuals bring two generations per life, in the north of the range – one, in the south – up to three. Adults are preoccupied with breeding and try to find a partner as quickly as possible.

Interesting fact: Caterpillars of this species have impressive mouthparts. They begin to eat the leaf from the edges. Having reached the central vein, they move to the next one. They gain weight very quickly. But, as soon as the individual pupates, growth ends. Moths only need energy to fly and reproduce.

Social Structure and Reproduction

Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar

Photo: Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar

Since nature gave the swallowtails very little time to exist, only the born butterflies immediately begin to search for a partner. Pairs find each other thanks to the production of pheromone, which they release into the environment.

During her short life, the female manages to lay 100-200 eggs. With each approach, she lays 2-3 spherical eggs of light yellow color under the leaves or on the stems of plants. After about a week, the eggs darken and change their color to black.

Females deliberately lay one egg at a time on different leaves of plants in order to provide food for newborn caterpillars. After 8-10 days, the larvae hatch, which first of all begin to eat. At the age of about 7 weeks, the caterpillar is attached with a silk thread to the stem of the plant, the last molt occurs and the individual pupates.

The pupae stay in a stationary state for 2-3 weeks, after which they turn into an adult butterfly. In the cocoon, most of the caterpillar’s organs are destroyed, transforming into the organs of an adult. The process is like digesting your own body in a cocoon.

Summer pupae are predominantly green, wintering pupae are brown. The butterfly will remain in the pupal stage until the first warm days. When the cocoon cracks, a beautiful creature is born. The moth sits in the sun for a while and dries its spread wings, after which it goes in search of food and a partner.

Natural enemies of the swallowtail butterfly

Swallowtail Butterfly

Photo: Swallowtail Butterfly

At all stages of the life cycle, the insect is haunted by danger. Butterfly Machaon can become food for arachnids, birds, ants, insectivores, small mammals. The most vulnerable are moths in the caterpillar or pupal stage. The insect manages to avoid attacks thanks to its camouflage color.

At a young age, the caterpillar looks like bird droppings. After the next molt, black and bright orange spots appear on the body. The colorful appearance lets predators know that the insects are unsuitable for eating. If the caterpillar feels danger, it begins to emit an unpleasant putrid smell with horns, showing that its taste is disgusting.

On the hind wings there are red-blue spots with a black border, resembling eyes in appearance. When the wings are spread, these spectacled spots scare off predators who want to feast on the moth. The effect is fixed by elongated processes at the tips of the wings, resembling tails.

Seventy years ago, moths were considered pests due to the consumption of plants grown by humans. People destroyed butterflies in every possible way, treating the fields with poisons and chemicals. Because of this, the population of the species quickly declined and it became a problematic task to meet this fluttering creature.

Population and species status


Photo: Swallowtail

The number of swallowtails is small and is directly related to the destruction of their natural habitats. On the territory of Russia, populations are considered small. Subspecies living in the areas along railway tracks and reclamation canals are poisoned by pesticides.

The greatest damage is caused by the burning of autumn grass, which has become a massive catastrophic event. When grass is burned in the spring, a huge number of pupae are destroyed, which winter on the stems of plants. Significant damage in terms of numbers is also caused by summer mowing of grass along highways.

The share of the blame falls on collectors who want to get as many rare endangered species as possible into their collections. They catch individuals either for personal collections or for exchange with other similar butterfly lovers from different countries. But no one collects statistics, as well as data on the amount of damage.

Natural problems include cold weather conditions, low temperatures, early frosts, due to which the individual does not have time to pupate, prolonged autumn, which leads to the defeat of larvae by fungus and parasites. The decline is observed throughout Europe. The species is protected in some countries.

Swallowtail butterfly protection

Butterfly Swallowtail from the Red Book

Photo: Butterfly Swallowtail from the Red Book books

In 1994, the species was listed in the Red Book of Ukraine, in 1998 in the Red Book of the Moscow Region, the Red Book of the Vologda Region, the Red Book of Lithuania, the Red Book of Karelia and was assigned to the 3rd category. In the Red Book of Germany, he was assigned category 4. In the Red Book of Latvia and the Red Book of the Smolensk region, the species is marked with the 2nd category of danger of extinction.

Naturalists around the globe are concerned about the number of moths and are taking measures to eliminate the threat of extinction of the species. In Tatarstan, a project was developed for the development of a residential building called «Makhaon Valley». It was designed in such a way as to preserve the landscape with a large number of lakes as much as possible.

To draw attention to the problem, in Latvia in 2013 the image of an insect was placed on the coat of arms of the Skrudaliene region. In 2006, the swallowtail became the symbol of Germany. In the above countries, protective measures have been taken to trap adult butterflies and destroy caterpillars. In habitats, it is forbidden to distribute insecticides and graze livestock.

Careful inhabitants of the planet are engaged in breeding moths at home. for this, butterflies must be provided with an aquarium, 10 liters in size for 5 individuals, a container with water, dill and a branch, where the caterpillars will pupate in anticipation of metamorphosis. To feed butterflies, you will need water and honey.

These fragile creatures delight us with their beauty, ease of flight, and amazing transformation. Some try to catch a moth for fun, not realizing that its life is too short. Their splendor is best enjoyed in the wild, without reducing the already short period allotted for butterflies to exist.

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