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Christmas (Papilio demodocus)


Christmas Butterfly

The Christmas Butterfly is a species of large-sized, primarily black and white butterfly found in parts of the African continent. The caterpillar of the species has an affinity for citrus plant leaves, and hence, also known as the ‘citrus swallowtail’.

Scientific Classification

  • Family: Papilionidae
  • Genus: Papilio
  • Common names: Citrus Swallowtail
  • Scientific Name: Papilio demodocus

Description and Identification


Citrus Swallowtail Caterpillar

The caterpillar of the species can attain a maximum length of about 4.5 cm and is green like many other species. It has densely marked spots in black and yellow, as well as a band of dummy eyes.


Citrus Swallowtail Pupa

The chrysalis is brown in color. When the time of transformation arrives, the larva attaches itself to the branches of the host plant with its silk and remains in this form for about two to three weeks.

Adult Butterfly

Sexual Dimorphism: Not present

Color and Appearance: When the wings are open, the primary wings show a black coloration. At the border there are two chains made of small spots in yellow, while in the middle of wing there is a similar chain. At the edge, there are a few big yellow spots. Both the secondary wings are also black-based without a tail, but having a pair of chains made of tiny yellow spots, while both the middle part and the edge have a chain of big spots of the same color. When the wings are closed, the ventral sides of both the wings are almost the same except for some yellow lines in the primary wings, close to its body, and an additional blue-and-white chain in the secondary wings, as well as, similar yellow lines like in the primary wings.

Citrus Swallowtail Butterfly
Citrus Swallowtail

Average wingspan: 9 to 11 cm

Flight pattern: Slow to medium; erratic


Citrus Swallowtail Eggs

Laid singly on the leaves of citrus trees

Quick Facts

Distribution Senegal, Somalia, Yemen, and Oman, down to South Africa
Habitat Variety of ranges, starting from semi-desert and secondary forests to acacia scrubs, arboreta, parks or gardens
Lifespan of adults About 1 to 3 weeks
Host plants Leaves of citrus trees
Adult diet Flower nectar

Did You Know?

  • The Christmas butterfly caterpillars and the eggs are favorite to the ichneumon flies.
  • The larvae of these butterflies are often called ‘orange dogs’.
  • For camouflage purposes, the caterpillar of the species looks quite like bird droppings.
Citrus Swallowtail Images
Citrus Swallowtail Pictures
Papilio demodocus

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