Exploring the Gorgeous Yellow Swallowtail Butterfly

A Yellow swallowtail, also known as the Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly, lives in the eastern part of North America and is unique for its tendency to prefer solitude but still gather around mud puddles.

Yellow swallowtail butterfly species summary

Scientific NamePapilio glaucus
Family NamePapilionidae
Kingdom Animalia
Genus Papilio
HabitatForests, gardens, grasslands, roadsides, hilltops
RangeEastern North America
Host PlantsMagnolia, cherries, tulips, fennel
Butterfly DescriptionYellow wing base, with black stripes and veins, females have a bluish area on hindwings; males are darker
Caterpillar DescriptionChanges color from yellowish/green to brown

What colors do yellow swallowtails have on their wings?

Both male and female Yellow swallowtail butterflies have yellow, cream, or off-white base color on their wings. They have black stripes on their forewings and black veins. The shaded spots parallel to their wing borders resemble tiger stripes.

Both sides of their hindwings will extend a bit and make it seem like they have tails. A red-orange eyespot sits between the hindwings, surrounded by a dark border and light blue or cyan spray marks that can be found just above the “tails.”

When these butterflies close their wings, the ventral side will appear somewhat translucent and display a blurred version of the dorsal end. Females also have more bluish areas, while males have black outlines.

Females usually appear larger. On average, their wingspans measure about 3.5 to 4.5 inches.

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Caterpillar Description


Yellow swallowtail caterpillars that have just emerged from their eggs are black with white bands along their thorax. They will change color and become brown when they grow to their full size.

Larvae have a large head with noticeable eyespots. Some caterpillars may have a saddle-like brown shape on a cream-colored body. In others, this pattern might be inverted.

Once they reach maturity, the instars can grow as long as 2.2 inches, after which they will undergo the pupal stage and form their pupa or chrysalis. At this point, the cocoon will measure about 1.3 inches.

Preferred Habitat

Yellow swallowtail butterflies usually live in the following habitats

  • Forests
  • Gardens
  • Grasslands
  • Roadsides
  • Hilltops
  • Damp wildflower meadows
  • Marshes
  • Tundras
  • Rivers
  • Fens
  • Woodlands
  • Mountains
  • Creeks

They are even sometimes found in yards and parks. Because they frequent most habitats and butterfly bushes, experts do not consider them a threatened species and classify them under the safe category.

Where do yellow swallowtails lay their eggs?

Yellow swallowtail butterflies typically feed and lay their eggs on the following host plants:

  • Thistles
  • Wild tarragon
  • Fennel
  • Milkweed
  • Arctic wormwood
  • Magnolia
  • Cottonwood
  • Black Cherry
  • Sweet bay
  • Tulip tree

What do yellow swallowtail butterflies eat?

Yellow swallowtail caterpillars and adult butterflies feed on a wide variety of food plants that belong to the Fabaceae, Apocynaceae, and Asteraceae families. The fully-developed adults especially like these nectars and consider these plants their go-to food sources.

Behavior and mating process

Yellow swallowtail butterflies are diurnal. This means they are most active during the daytime and tend to rest or have significantly decreased activities during the night.

They mostly prefer being alone and flying as high from the ground as possible to stay away from others. They can be seen in higher parts and structures like the top of a tree canopy.

If ever they’re in the mood to “socialize,” adult male butterflies gather on a small body of water. This behavior is known as puddling.

Muddling is an excellent way for male Yellow swallowtails to get minerals and nutrients, such as amino acids and sodium ions. These are important to boost their ability to reproduce with the females.

Male Yellow swallowtails usually look for mates by hovering around host plants. When they find some female swallowtails flying about, they begin the courtship process.

Courtship takes place with the male and female butterflies flying about as if to test and check out each other. The male usually secretes pheromones at this time to “convince” the female to choose him over the other ones that may be in the same area.

Once they establish “liking” one another, they land on a host plant and start with reproduction.

Like other swallowtails, they resort to mimicry to avoid predators—particularly during their larval state. As such, the caterpillars imitate the appearance of bird droppings to discourage the predators from eating them.

Common Predators

The Yellow swallowtail butterflies have a lot of predators:

  • Raccoons
  • Squirrels
  • Possums
  • Woodpeckers
  • Hawks
  • Owls
  • Hornets
  • Blackbirds
  • Flycatchers

Usual Distribution

The Yellow swallowtail butterfly is one of the most common species of swallowtails that you can see in the Eastern United States. They frequent the area east of the Rocky Mountains and New Hampshire.

How do you attract yellow swallowtails?

If you live in the Eastern part of the US and want to attract Yellow swallowtails, plant Magnoliaceae and Rosaceae families — tulips, magnolias, and wild black cherries are ideal. Still, this butterfly is a generalist, so it will visit if you have other plants.

The meaning of the Yellow swallowtail butterfly

These butterflies symbolize transformation and hope to those who see them. In some cultures, they also mean a positive change in the status quo, so seeing one is a sign of a good omen. Yellow butterflies usually mean a lot of blessings and happy events.

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