Anise Swallowtail Butterfly: Identification, Life Cycle, and Behavior

In this article, you’ll delve into the world of the Anise Swallowtail Butterfly, discovering how to identify this vibrant species, details about its life cycle, and interesting behaviors.

You’ll gain insights into their distribution patterns and primary host plants, and learn about the unique threats they face. Get ready to be carried away on the wings of knowledge as we explore this fascinating butterfly in detail.

anise swallowtail butterfly

What is the Classification of Anise Swallowtail Butterfly?

When it comes to scientific classification, the Anise Swallowtail Butterfly carries the Latin name Papilio zelicaon. This particular species falls under the Papilio genus, which is widely recognized for boasting a variety of large and stunning butterflies.

You will find it and its brethren in the family Papilionidae. This family includes over 550 species of swallowtails, all known for their prominent, tail-like extensions on the hind wings.

Additionally, the Anise Swallowtail Butterfly is a member of the order Lepidoptera. This order contains butterflies and moths, recognizable by their scaled wings.

Let’s summarize information in a simple table.

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus Species
Animalia Arthropoda Insecta Lepidoptera Papilionidae Papilio Papilio zelicaon

So, there you have it! The Anise Swallowtail Butterfly finds its spot in the vast universe of species by its specific classification.

Its broad genus, family, and order connect it with a wide range of species, from the everyday backyard butterflies to the sought-after exotic varieties.

What is the Distribution of Anise Swallowtail Butterfly?

The Anise Swallowtail Butterfly, with its striking yellow and black wings, is native to North America. It thrives in a diverse range of habitats, across the vast expanse from Alaska to Baja, Mexico, and from the Pacific Coast to the Rocky Mountains.

Its presence is quiet pronounced as you can spot it in various settings, including woodlands, urban gardens, and even bustling city parks.

Mild pleasant climates, typically coastal or mountainous regions, are their chosen homegrounds, but they can readily adapt to other areas too.

Their adaptability comes in handy when navigating shifting landscapes. In essence, they’re comfortable setting up residence wherever their preferred food, the Anise plant, is available. So, as this plant grows, you’ll likely see these delightful butterflies nearby.

Interestingly, they also have an impressive habit of extending their presence. You can witness a wave of migration in the early spring and late fall, often noted in the Central Valley of California and other southwestern states.

During these times, they actively migrate to broaden their habitat range, seeking better conditions and plenty of food supply.

Enjoy the sight of these delicate creatures when they flutter-by, paying homage to their resilience and adaptability.

Hence, evidence suggests that the distribution of the Anise Swallowtail Butterfly is quite wide and varied, thanks to their remarkable ability to adapt and migrate.

What are the Main Characteristics of the Anise Swallowtail Butterfly?

The Anise Swallowtail butterfly carries a distinctive appeal in its color pattern that separates it from other species. Its wings, measuring 2.5 to 4 inches (6.5 to 10 centimeters), are largely yellow, whereas the black borders possess a pattern of light yellow-to-yellowish-green marks.

Its below wings showcase a notable blue scaling centered with a clear black eye spot circled red.

The body of the Anise Swallowtail is strikingly shaded black, with a row of yellow dots aligning both sides.

The caterpillar, fundamentally green, changes its coloration throughout its development. Initially, it appears to be black with a white middle splotch, simulating bird droppings for protective camouflage.

As it matures, the caterpillar, now striped green and black, bears yellow dots along its body length.

Recognizing an Anise Swallowtail butterfly is simplified by these distinct characteristics. However, the discernment between a mature caterpillar and the fully metamorphosed butterfly adds variety to the species’ identification criteria.

The Anise Swallowtail butterfly, graceful in its patterns and transformations, leaves no confusion in its wake.

Its vibrant colors blended with observable evolution make it an intriguing subject of the cosmic nature.

How to Identify Male and Female Anise Swallowtail Butterfly?

When it comes to identifying Anise Swallowtail butterflies, some differences are subtle yet significant enough to distinguish the males from the females.

For starters, male Anise Swallowtail butterflies are typically smaller than their female counterparts. They tend to measure only 3 to 4 inches (7.6 to 10.1 cm) in wingspan. On the other hand, female Anise Swallowtail butterflies are generally a bit larger, with a wingspan reaching up to 4 to 5 inches (10.1 to 12.7 cm).

  • Coloration is another chief distinguisher. Male Anise Swallowtails usually exhibit brighter and more vibrant colors compared to the slightly duller shades seen on females.
  • Males primarily sport a yellow color with black stripes running through the wings. Meanwhile, females present a more pale yellow color, with the black stripes appearing thicker.
  • The position of the blue and orange spots on the hindwings also serve as identification factors. Males display smaller blue spots than females.

Take note of the behavior too. Male Anise Swallowtails are often seen engaging in ‘hilltopping’ or flying to the top of a hill to wait for females, a common behavior in butterflies that can aid in identifying their gender. Female butterflies, on the other hand, are usually busy laying eggs on their host plants.

In conclusion, size, coloration, position of spots, and behavior are key elements to differentiate male from female Anise Swallowtail butterflies.

What is the Mating Ritual of Anise Swallowtail Butterfly?

The mating ritual of the Anise Swallowtail Butterfly is a fascinating spectacle to behold. This begins when a male Anise Swallowtail Butterfly spots a potential mate, typically a female perched on a plant.

Upon identification, the male embarks on an elaborate courtship display. This involves a dance around the female, fluttering his wings incessantly to catch her attention.

During this performance, he releases pheromones, chemical signals, designed to arouse the interest of the female.

If the female is receptive, she opens her wings and allows the male to land on her. The male then transfers a package of nutrients and sperm called a spermatophore, effectively achieving copulation.

This process lasts anywhere between 30 minutes to several hours before the male flies off, leaving the female to lay her fertilized eggs alone.

After mating, females begin the next phase of their life cycle by seeking out suitable host plants for egg deposition. These are often plants from the carrot family, which include the anise plant, the namesake of this remarkable butterfly species.

Remember, the mating ritual is more than just the exchange of gametes. It also sets the stage for the next generation of Anise Swallowtail butterflies, ensuring the survival of the species.

Observing these minute, intricate aspects of their behavior indeed presents a window into the idiosyncrasies of the natural world.

What Does the Caterpillar of Anise Swallowtail Butterfly Look Like?

Fascinatingly, the caterpillar of Anise Swallowtail Butterfly starts its life as an inconspicuous small creature. The body is primarily black with a white saddle mark in the middle, speckled with dots that seem to twinkle like stars.

Not only this, but they also have an orange spot on their rear end that particularly stands out upon a first glance.

As they grow older, they change their color to green with black bands containing orange spots. You’d be amazed to find they grow quite large, reaching lengths of up to 2 inches, or 5 cm in metric.

These colors serve as a camouflage, naturally blending them into their surroundings.

However, their most fascinating feature is their osmeterium. This is a forked, fleshy organ that they display when threatened. It omits an odor that serves to frighten off predators, further ensuring their survival.

The caterpillar stage of the Anise Swallowtail is as remarkable as the butterfly itself, boasting intriguing visual features and behaviors that serve to ensure its survival in the wild.

What is the Life Cycle of Anise Swallowtail Butterfly?

The life cycle of an Anise Swallowtail Butterfly is divided into four stages: egg, caterpillar, pupa, and adult butterfly.

  1. Egg: The cycle begins when a female butterfly lays miniscule, sphere-shaped eggs on host plants. These eggs are typically around 1 mm (0.04 in) in diameter and hatch in about 10 days.
  2. Caterpillar: Upon hatching, a tiny caterpillar emerges. This caterpillar stages, generally lasting 30-45 days, sees rapid growth from Constant feeding on host plants. They are brightly colored, with a mix of black, yellow, and green stripes running down their bodies. With each shedding of its old skin, the caterpillar grows larger and enters a new instar stage. The last instar results in the caterpillar reaching a length between 5 cm (2 in).
  3. Pupa: After consuming enough nourishment, the caterpillar finds a secure spot among the foliage to transform into a chrysalis. The pupa stage lasts approximately 2 weeks. During this stage, the caterpillar undergoes remarkable internal changes.
  4. Adult butterfly: Finally, when the transformation is complete, the fully formed adult butterfly emerges. This butterfly showcases vibrant yellow and black markings. Depending on the temperatures and food sources, adults may live from 10 to 40 days.

Throughout its life cycle, the Anise Swallowtail Butterfly undergoes incredible changes. From its origin as a tiny egg to its final form as a radiant butterfly, its journey is an exceptional demonstration of nature’s wonders.

This transformative process, known as metamorphosis, reflects the inherent beauty and complexity of insect life cycles.

What Is the Average Life Expectancy of an Anise Swallowtail Butterfly?

In reality, the life expectancy of an Anise Swallowtail Butterfly, like many insects, varies. Factors influencing their lifespan include environmental conditions and predators.

Nonetheless, average duration, from egg to adult, is typically around 45 days.

Let’s break it down further:

  • The egg stage lasts approximately 4-10 days.
  • The caterpillar stage, where the butterfly is most vulnerable, lasts for about 3-5 weeks.
  • In the chrysalis phase, or the transformation stage, which lasts 10-20 days, they remain in a shell-like cocoon.
  • Lastly, as a mature butterfly, they live from 1-2 weeks.

While this might seem short, it’s an average lifespan for butterflies. Notably, if they overwinter as pupae, they can live up to 10 months, which greatly extends their lifespan.

Anise Swallowtails, like many of their butterfly brethren, exist primarily to reproduce and serve a critical role in the ecological cycle, despite their brief lifespan.

As with most creatures, the objective is not merely to exist. Their colorful existence, albeit brief, adds beauty to the world, while contributing to pollination and serving as an essential food source for many creatures.

Don’t let the short timeline fool you; the Anise Swallowtail lives a full and vibrant life.

What Does the Diet of an Anise Swallowtail Butterfly Consist Of?

The diet of an Anise Swallowtail ,Papilio zelicaon, primarily consists of nectar from a variety of flowering plants.

As an adult, they take nourishment from flowers, such as milkweed and thistles, sipping nectar with their long, straw-like tongue called a proboscis.

The nectar provides adult butterflies with the energy necessary for flying and reproduction. Just like hummingbirds, Adults have a sweet tooth indeed.

While in the caterpillar stage though, Anise Swallowtail larva feed on the leaves of various plants from the carrot family, like dill, fennel and parsley. Their palate extends to some wild species like desert parsley and water hemlock.

In general, their diet is diverse, shifting between floral nectar and vegetation depending on the stage of life. It’s fascinating how a diet change aids in transformation.

Now, you might wonder how they locate food? Butterflies have excellent vision and can detect colors. They use these skills, together with their sense of smell, to find their favorite plants.

So, the next time you spot an Anise Swallowtail butterfly fluttering around, remember that it’s just enjoying one of its many floral treats.

Which Plants Serve as the Primary Hosts for Anise Swallowtail Butterfly?

The Anise Swallowtail Butterfly, scientifically known as Papilio zelicaon, has a very specific dietary preference. They are heavily reliant on certain types of host plants where they feed, reproduce, and, essentially, flourish.

For instance, their caterpillars predominantly feed on plants of the carrot family (Apiaceae), like anisefennelparsleyqueen anne’s lace, and some other plants, as well. Host plants play a significant role in their life cycle as this is where they lay eggs and caterpillars feed.

According to research, the primary preferred host of this butterfly species is anise. It’s from this predilection that they derive their common name, Anise Swallowtail Butterfly.

The caterpillars eat intently, consuming anise leaves before they initiate the process of metamorphosis.

Often found in home gardens or wild habitats, these butterflies have an additional preference for fennel, which is another plant of the carrot family.

Caterpillars are usually found on these plants in warmer months, chewing away at the succulent portions.

Individuals with a keen interest can even cultivate these plants to attract and nurture this species. By providing a plentiful fount of their preferred food, you would be aiding their survival in a world that is growing increasingly hostile to them.

What are the Unique Mimicry Behaviors in Anise Swallowtail Butterfly?

The Anise Swallowtail butterfly is known for its unique mimicry behaviors, which play a crucial role in its survival strategy.

It has developed vibrant yellow and black color patterns on its wings, which mimic the appearance of toxic or unpalatable species. This Batesian mimicry is an evasive tactic to deter predators, making them think the butterfly is harmful or distasteful.

Through evolutionary adaptation, the Anise Swallowtail has not only copied the color patterns but also the flying patterns of its model species.

This perfect imitation enhances the effectiveness of its mimicry, tricking potential predators more convincingly.

Predators, once deceived, remember the unpleasant experience and avoid attacking similar-looking butterflies in the future.

The Anise Swallowtail’s mimicry is so precise that it can be hard for humans to distinguish it from the species it’s imitating.

This demonstrates the amazing adaptive abilities of this butterfly and its successful survival strategy.

So, next time you come across an Anise Swallowtail, take a moment to appreciate this remarkable example of mimicry in nature.

What Are the Main Threats to Anise Swallowtail Butterfly Populations?

The Anise Swallowtail Butterfly, with its vibrant colors and unique behavior, is a remarkable creature. However, they face numerous threats in the wild.

Habitat loss is a significant risk. It occurs due to urbanization, deforestation, and changes in land use, including agriculture and construction projects.

Pesticides are another major threat. To control pests in crops and gardens, farmers and gardeners often use harmful chemicals.

These substances can devastate the butterfly population, disrupting their growth and reproduction.

Many parasites and predators also pose a risk to these butterflies. Common predators include spiders, birds, and carnivorous insects.

A parasitic wasp, in particular, can destroy a large portion of a butterfly population by laying its eggs in the caterpillars.

Additionally, they face danger due to climate change. Changes in temperature and rainfall patterns can impact butterfly populations.

Adverse weather conditions can cause a decline in their food sources, and extended periods of unsuitable weather can be fatal to eggs and caterpillars.

In conclusion, the Anise Swallowtail Butterfly faces many threats. Continuing threats include habitat destruction, pesticides, predators, parasites, and climate change.

To protect these incredible creatures, it is necessary to address these issues. Conservation and sustainable farming methods are just some actionable steps.

We must protect and conserve this enchanting species for future generations. Your actions matter!


Swallowtail butterflies, particularly the Anise variety, exhibit a fascinating life cycle and intriguing behaviors.

Studying and observing their lifecycle, from egg to adult, offers us a captivating window into the world of lepidoptery. What are your own experiences with these marvelous creatures?

Feel free to share them in the comments!

Butterflies   Updated: July 10, 2023
avatar Welcome to Insectic, a blog to learn about insects and bugs. I'm Richard, and I've created this website to share my experience, knowledge, and passion with others.

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