Learn more about the Zebra Swallowtail Butterfly

The Zebra swallowtail butterfly is common around southern New England, Texas, and Florida. It is unique for its zebra-like patterns and long tails on its hindwings.

Zebra swallowtail species summary

Scientific Name Euritides marcellus
Family NamePapilionidae
HabitatMoist wooden environments, riversides, gardens, lakeshores
RangeNew England, Texas, Florida
Host PlantsPawpaw species
Butterfly DescriptionBlack and white bands, angular wings, with long tails on hindwings
Caterpillar DescriptionGreen with a black stripe and faint yellowish/white coloration

What are the colors of the Zebra swallowtail?

Zebra swallowtail
Zebra swallowtail

This pollinator butterfly species has white bands that closely resemble zebra patterns. Its wingspan can reach about 4 inches. The wings are triangular, with long, thin tails resembling swords on the hindwings.

The middle parts of the hindwings have red stripes. The medial dorsal portions have blue spots on the corners, while red spots can be seen near the thorax area.

This butterfly species has 2 different forms depending on the season. The summer version is larger with white wing edges, black stripes, and long tails. On the other hand, the spring form is smaller, with white wingtips and short tails.

Zebra swallowtail compared to Zebra longwing

The Zebra swallowtail belongs to the family Papilionidae while the Zebra longwing belongs to the family Nymphalidae. The Swallowtail species has angular wings and prominent tails, while the Longwing kind has elongated wings.

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Caterpillar Description

Zebra swallowtail caterpillar
Zebra swallowtail caterpillar

Most of the Zebra swallowtail caterpillars are green, while some appear black with yellow stripes that run from the apex to their caudal parts. When done with the first and second instars, the caterpillars are dark gray.

Their final instar form will showcase broad black, yellow, and blue transverse bands most apparent on the cephalic side.

However, some larvae’s fifth instar may have a darker color because of polymorphism. In this case, the osmeterium is yellow.

A fully developed Zebra swallowtail caterpillar can grow up to 2 inches. After this, it will spin its chrysalis and transition to the next stage.

Where can you find a zebra swallowtail?

Zebra swallowtail butterflies live in the following types of surroundings:

  • Moist wooden environments
  • Riversides
  • Gardens
  • Lakeshores
  • Marshes
  • Swamps

There have been sightings of Zebra swallowtail butterflies in North America, specifically southern New England, Kansas, and south to Texas and Florida.

What do Zebra swallowtails lay their eggs on?

Female Zebra swallowtail butterflies usually lay their eggs on the pawpaw plants, such as:

  • Smallflower pawpaw (Asimina parviflora)
  • Slim-leaf pawpaw (Asimina angustifolia)
  • Netted pawpaw (Asimina reticulata)
  • Woolly pawpaw (Asimina incana)
  • Common pawpaw (Asimina triloba)
  • Dwarf pawpaw (Asimina parviflora)
  • Four-petal pawpaw (Asimina tetramera)
  • Other pawpaw trees (Carica papaya)

Diet of caterpillars and adult Zebras

Newly-hatched caterpillars feed on pawpaw plants, sometimes milkweed leaves. Adult Zebra swallowtail butterflies feed on the nectar of the following plants:

  • Zinnia
  • Blueberry
  • Cosmos
  • Blackberry
  • Milkweed
  • Lilac
  • Sweet William
  • Redbud

Male Zebra swallowtail butterflies visit water and mud puddles to get some minerals and nutrients they will eventually use to boost reproduction. Other sources of the males’ nutrition include urine and fermenting fruits. 

Behavior and life cycle

The Zebra swallowtail eggs hatch in about four to 10 days, depending on the temperature and the host plant they were laid on.

The Zebra swallowtail caterpillars will feed on their eggshells and the leaves of the host plants once they emerge. They will stay in the larval stage for about a month before transitioning to the next phase.

The pupal stage lasts for about one to 2 weeks. The only exception is when they are overwintering as part of their survival. Then, it will take them months before they finally emerge from their chrysalises. This happens around early spring. Once it emerges from the pupa, the adult Zebra swallowtail butterfly lives for about one to 2 weeks. 

The males spend most of their lifespans flying around the host plants to look for a partner during the mating season. At this point, their flight patterns are direct and swift. While looking for a partner, they also get nectar and toxins from the plants to help reinforce their chemical defense mechanisms against birds.

On the other hand, female adult butterflies will look for their preferred mate by flying slowly and going around the host plants. They will visit different flowers, and both will participate in puddling.

Zebra swallowtail butterflies lay their eggs one at a time on different leaves. This prevents newly-hatched caterpillars from eating each other instead of turning to the leaves of host plants for food.

Usual Predators

Some of the natural enemies of the Zebra swallowtail butterflies are the following:

  • Young mammals
  • Birds
  • Ants
  • Spiders

Is the Zebra swallowtail rare?

At the moment, this butterfly has a secure status. Still, in some areas, it is considered rare. 

5 facts about the Zebra swallowtail butterfly

  1. Adult butterflies don’t have jaws
  2. Males may sometimes drink blood and feed on animal matter
  3. Zebras can live up to 6 months
  4. Males fly up to 6 feed off the ground
  5. Caterpillars may be cannibalistic

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