The Common Tiger Butterfly vs. Similar American species

The Common tiger butterfly, also known as just the Common tiger, is native to India. It has tawny-colored wings with black edges, white spots, and veins, resembling several other species native to North America.

Common Tiger Butterfly species summary

Scientific NameDanaus genutia
Family NameNymphalidae
Genus Danaus
HabitatScrub jungles, fallow land adjacent to habitation, dry and moist deciduous forests
RangeIndia, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, South-East Asia, and Australia
Host PlantsFrom family Asclepiadaceae
Butterfly DescriptionTawny-colored wings with thick black lines and veins
Caterpillar DescriptionBlack, and brown, with a yellow horizontal line

Butterfly Description

Common tiger
Common tiger

The average wingspan of a Common tiger butterfly ranges from 2.8 to 3.7 inches.

Its wing patterns are similar to the tiger stripes — orange/brown background with thick black lines and veins on both sides.

Forewings have noticeable white patterns on the upper edges, followed by a black wingtip.

Comparison to similar species in North America

The Common tiger butterfly is similar to several other butterfly species:

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  • The Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus)
  • The Western tiger swallowtail butterfly (Papilio rutulus)
  • The Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus)
Eastern tiger swallowtailYellow, with black stripes (males) and a bluish area on the hindwings (female)
Western tiger swallowtailSimilar to the Eastern tiger, with tiny orange eyespots on the end of their hindwings
MonarchTawny wings with white spots and black veins

The Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus, family Papilionidae) is native to North America and is one of the most common butterflies in the US. Its wings are yellow, with black stripes (males) and a bluish area on the hindwings (female). They feed on plants from the families Apocynaceae, Asteraceae, Fabaceae, and Liriodendron tulipifera.

The Western tiger swallowtail butterfly (Papilio rutulus, family Papilionidae) is also common in North America. They are similar to the Eastern tiger, with tiny orange eyespots on the end of their hindwings. These butterflies are common in butterfly gardens, and their common food plants include cottonwood trees, aspen, and willows.

The Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus, family Nymphalidae) is likely the closest to the Common tiger in appearance. It also has tawny wings with white spots and black veins. However, Monarchs are present across North America. They feed on milkweed.

Larva Description

The Common tiger butterfly caterpillar is brown, with a black underside and a yellowish stripe going from its head to the end of the body. On the upperside, it has an array of yellow and white dots.

It takes about 3 days to hatch from the egg. Older instars develop black/purple rings and pairs of horn-like protrusions on the head, back, and posterior. The chrysalis is green and remains suspended under the host plant’s leaves.

Where do tiger butterflies live?

The Tiger butterfly can live and thrive in various types of surroundings, including:

  • Scrub jungles
  • Fallow land adjacent to habitation
  • Dry and moist deciduous forests

This species lives in India, South-East Asia, and Australia.

Host Plants and diet

The female Common tiger butterflies lay eggs on the Cynanchum ovalifolium and Cynanchum tunicatum (family Apocynaceae). Caterpillars eat the host plants, while adults feed on flower nectar.


Female butterflies lay eggs singly on the underside of the host plant leaves. Once hatched, the caterpillar will eat the eggshell first, then move on the feed on the leaves. The butterflies congregate with others of the same species to drink tree sap from several plants.

Adult butterflies have a strong and fast flight. They mostly fly around looking for host plants. These species may visit gardens with Adelocaryum, Cosmos, Celosia, Lantana, or Zinnia.

Predators and the Common tiger’s defense

Primary predators may include birds, spiders, and small mammals. However, since the caterpillar feeds on toxic plants, it will keep the toxicity in its adult form. This makes it unpalatable to predators.

Additionally, these butterflies are tough to kill and often fake death, so predators leave them alone.

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