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Scarce Swallowtail (Iphiclides podalirius)

The Scarce Swallowtail is a magnificent species of butterfly that graces various landscapes across its wide distribution range. Despite its name, this butterfly is not actually scarce but rather abundant in many areas it inhabits. This page explores the world of the Scarce Swallowtail, offering detailed insights into its life cycle, identification markers, and intriguing facts that underscore its unique place in the butterfly kingdom.

Scarce Swallowtail

Scientific Classification

  • Family: Papilionidae
  • Genus: Iphiclides
  • Common names: Sail Swallowtail
  • Scientific Name: Iphiclides podalirius


Belonging to the family of large and distinctive butterflies, the Scarce Swallowtail (Iphiclides podalirius) captivates with its elegant appearance and graceful flight. It is found in multiple subspecies across Europe, extending into parts of Asia. One subspecies, Iphiclides podalirius feisthamelii, is sometimes considered a separate species due to distinct characteristics. This butterfly thrives in a variety of habitats, showcasing its adaptability and the beauty of its evolutionary journey.

Description and Identification

Scarce Swallowtail CaterpillarCaterpillar

The journey of the Scarce Swallowtail begins as a larva, emerging dark and later transitioning to a vibrant green. This coloration, segmented by thin black lines with a pattern of black triangles bordered by yellow, is not only striking but serves as a defense mechanism against predators.

Scarce Swallowtail PupaPupa

The chrysalis phase exhibits a fascinating adaptation for survival—camouflage. With chrysalises appearing in either brown or green, they blend seamlessly with their surroundings, a testament to nature’s ingenuity. The color distinction also correlates with the seasons, with green pupae in summer and brown in winter, the latter entering hibernation before their transformation into butterflies.

Adult Butterfly

Sexual Dimorphism: Sexual Dimorphism is visually negligible, allowing both genders to share a mesmerizing appearance.

Color and Appearance: When the wings are open, the scarce swallowtails display several long and black tiger stripes in knife-like patterns on a creamy white base. The borders of the hind wings are lined with several inverted crescent moon-like blue markings including the long tail-like protrusion at the end of the two wings. There are also two orange-yellow spots almost in the middle of the secondary wings. When the wings are closed, they display an identical pattern scheme in both the male and the female.

Iphiclides podaliriusSail SwallowtailAverage wingspan: Males: 60–80 mm (2.4–3.1 in); Females: 62–90 mm (2.4–3.5 in)

Flight pattern: Their Flight Pattern is described as slow and floating, a graceful dance that captivates onlookers

Scarce Swallowtail EggsEggs

The beginning of life for these butterflies is marked by light greenish eggs laid on host plant leaves, a delicate start to their lifecycle.

Quick Facts

DistributionAcross Europe, Turkey, Near East, extending to the Middle East, Kazakhstan, Altai, SW Siberia, and western China.
HabitatThrives in scrublands, hedgerows, open orchards, isolated bushes, and human-made environments.
Lifespan of Adults2-3 weeks.
Host PlantsPrefers blackthorn (Prunus spinosa).
Adult DietPrimarily flower nectar.

How to Identify Scarce Swallowtail?

Identifying the Scarce Swallowtail can be a rewarding experience for both amateur and seasoned lepidopterists. Look for its large wingspan and distinctive color pattern: creamy white with black stripes and blue crescent markings. The long tail-like extensions on the hind wings are signature features. Observing the butterfly in its natural habitat, such as open orchards or scrublands, can also provide clues to its identity. Pay attention to the flight pattern—slow and floating, as if the butterfly is effortlessly gliding through the air. These characteristics, combined with knowledge of its preferred host plants like the blackthorn, can greatly aid in identification and appreciation of this stunning species.

Did You Know?

  • The Scarce Swallowtail can reach altitudes up to 2000 meters, showcasing its remarkable adaptability and strength.
  • The term ‘scarce’ misleadingly suggests rarity, but in reality, this butterfly is quite common in its range. The designation relates to its decreased numbers as migrants in the UK.
  • Another interesting fact is that this species demonstrates a high level of adaptability in its larval stage, with caterpillars able to change color for better camouflage against predators.


The Scarce Swallowtail butterfly is not just a testament to the beauty of the natural world but also to the intricate relationships between species and their environments. From its early days as a camouflaged caterpillar to its majestic flight as an adult, each stage of the Scarce Swallowtail’s life cycle is a marvel of adaptation and survival. By understanding and appreciating these creatures, we gain insight into the broader ecosystems they inhabit and the importance of conserving the natural world for future generations to enjoy.

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Scientific Classification

  • Family: Papilionidae
  • Genus: Iphiclides
  • Common names: Sail Swallowtail
  • Scientific Name: Iphiclides podalirius
Published by Avatar on October 29, 2018.
Last Updated: February 22, 2024. ✅ Verified by: Butterfly Team