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Common Yellow Swallowtail (Papilio machaon)

Common Yellow Swallowtail Butterfly

The Common Yellow Swallowtail is a species of butterflies that are known for their large size and pronounced ornamental patterns. Very easy to be recognized, the species is spread across many parts of the world in 37 recognized subspecies.

Description and Identification


Common Yellow Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar

Caterpillars emerge from the eggs after around a week from hatching. During this time, they are black with white bands. By July, when ready to pupate, the caterpillars are fully grown, turning into bright green and ornamented with thin bands in black along with orange spots.

Scientific Classification


Common Yellow Swallowtail Butterfly Pupa

The chrysalis may be either pale brown or light green with a darker brown stripe and remains attached to the stem of a reed. In this state, they hibernate throughout the winter, until the arrival of the spring in the following year.

Adult Butterfly

Sexual Dimorphism: Not present

Color and Appearance: When the wings are open, the wings of both the males and the (larger) females display a dark gray base with elongated off-white to cream marks at the center of the primary wings, and even white spots arranged parallel to the border of the wings. The side of each of the hindwings close to the characteristic ‘tail’ displays a bright reddish-orange eyespot with a black border around it along the lower border that touches the inner edge of the pair of hindwings. There is also three to four cyan to light blue spray marks just above the two tails. When the wings are closed, the ventral side shows a faint or blurry mirror image of the dorsal side.

Common Yellow Swallowtail
Old World Swallowtail Butterfly

Average wingspan: Typically 9 to 10 cm

Flight pattern: Strong flaps


Common Yellow Swallowtail Butterfly Eggs

Eggs are light brown in color laid singly on the upper leaves of Hog’s Fennel, also known as Milk Parsley.

Quick Facts

Distribution Primarily in most of Europe and Asia, but can also be found in Canada, Alaska, and California
Habitat Damp wildflower meadows, fens, tundras, forests, mountains, marshes, grasslands, hilltops, and several other temperate areas
Host plants Primarily Sagebrush (Artemisia) species, including Arctic wormwood and wild tarragon
Adult diet Only flower nectar

Did You Know?

  • Even while feeding nectar, the butterfly typically continues beating its wings, which is rare among other butterflies.
  • The butterfly has an affinity towards pink or mauve flowers.
Papilio machaon
Common Yellow Swallowtail Butterfly Images

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