Canadian Tiger Swallowtail: Identification, Life Cycle, and Behavior

From the classification to the life cycle and unique behaviors, this article will guide you through everything you need to know about Canadian Tiger Swallowtails.

Discover how to identify both male and female of this species, their mating rituals and their diet.

We’ll also touch on potential threats endangering these creatures and how they use mimicry for survival.

canadian tiger swallowtail butterfly

What is the Classification of Canadian Tiger Swallowtail?

The Canadian Tiger Swallowtail falls under the Lepidoptera order, known for its vast variety of moths and butterflies.

In this order, it is a part of the Papilionidae family, a group renowned for their large, brightly-colored, and distinctive wings.

More specifically, it belongs to the genus Papilio, where it is known by the scientific name, Papilio canadensis.

  • Scientific Order: Lepidoptera
  • Family: Papilionidae
  • Genus: Papilio
  • Species: Papilio canadensis

Remember this, because understanding the basics paves the way for deeper appreciation of this beautful species.

Think of these categories like a narrowing funnel, guiding you closer to the unique characteristics of the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail.

What is the Distribution of Canadian Tiger Swallowtail?

Venturing into the realm of the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail, you’ll find them abundantly distributed across Canada. Be it Yukon, Nova Scotia, or New Brunswick, these colorful butterflies flourish from the East coast to the West.

Recognize that they are not just confined to Canada; their presence trickles down to Alaska and the northern United States.

The Canadian Tiger Swallowtail butterflies play out their lives in various habitats. These range from woodlands to gardens, and even roadside vegetation.

They prefer habitats that are sunny and filled with lush greenery, specifically areas dominated by deciduous trees, their preferred host plants.

Whether you are in the heartland of Canada or the northern trajectory of the U.S., sighting these butterflies could be incredibly common.

They’ve even been sighted as far north as the tundra, proving their adaptability to different climates. From the warm tranquility of gardens to the humid forest reserves, they truly embrace a diversity of habitats.

To sum it up, the distribution of the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail paints a picture of incredible adaptability and resilience.

Straddling varied geographies and climatic conditions, these butterflies grace North America with their exquisite presence.

What are the Main Characteristics of the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail?

The Canadian Tiger Swallowtail is a species of butterfly notable for its striking appearance. It measures about 3 inches (7.6 cm) in wingspan, making an easily identifiable insect.

The initial thing to catch your eye when you spot this butterfly – its wings. They showcase a vivid yellow color interlaced with bold black stripes, bearing a resemblance to a tiger’s pattern, hence the name.

Contrasting patches of blue and orange near its tail further enhance its beauty. When the swallowtail is at rest, you often see its wings spread wide, showcasing the full splendor of its patterns.

The forewings are pointed, another key characteristic distinguishing them from other species.

The underpart of the wings present a different picture, they result much paler with faint black stripes. The unique trait of these lifters are the small reddish twin “tails”, aiding in their fishing rod-like flight.

Canadian Tiger Swallowtails even exhibit sexual dimorphism. Male breezers bear obvious tiger-like streaks compared to female flutters who wear a cloud of blue on their lower wings, with wider black bands.

Lastly, not to be left unsaid, in both sexes, a small patch of orange and prominent black dot sit together at the base of the tail.

The Canadian Tiger Swallowtail presents a visually-spectacular representation of Canada’s wildlife.

How to Identify Male and Female Canadian Tiger Swallowtail?

To accurately identify a Canadian Tiger Swallowtail butterfly, it is necessary to take into account several key characteristics.

It is important to know that there is sexual dimorphism in this species, which means males and females exhibit different physical features.

Males of this species are usually somewhat smaller than females, and they exhibit a strong yellow coloration coupled with bold black stripes, which give them their tiger-like appearance.

Their size falls between 2.75 and 4 inches (70 to 102mm). They also have a black tail, which is colored with notable orange caps.

Females, on the other hand, can be either yellow or black. The yellow females resemble males but have broader blue bands on the hind wings.

On the other hand, the black form of females, often called a ‘dark morph’, is predominantly black with shadows of the tiger stripes visible in certain light. Their size ranges between 3 and 5 inches (76 to 127mm).

Whether male or female, the underwings of the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail are colored with muted tones compared to the vibrant upper wings.

This is a defense mechanism that camouflages them from predators when they are resting with their wings closed. Both sexes are truly a sight to behold.

What is the Mating Ritual of Canadian Tiger Swallowtail?

The mating ritual of the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail begins with a courtship called hilltopping.

Male butterflies fly to hilltops or ridge line points which serve as a meeting place for the females. When females arrive, males perform an aerial dance to entice the female and ensure successful mating.

Yes, they famously do hilltopping. This activity frequently takes place in late morning or early afternoon. Males are usually first to land on a spot.

They then encounter females by flying above them, encircling them, and performing a fascinating flight dance.

While in the air, males emit pheromonal signals to attract females. These calls of love are not visible, but they effectively draw the female butterflies towards them.

Encouraged by their dance and signals, if the females are interested, they respond by vibrating their wings and accepting the male mate.

By the time the morning cools off into evening, the mating completes and eggs laid are strategically laid by females on host plants.

Overall, it’s a devoted and captivating ritual that reflects the patterns of nature wrapped in finesse and beauty.

What Does the Caterpillar of Canadian Tiger Swallowtail Look Like?

The caterpillar of the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail is a unique sight. In its early stages, it resembles bird droppings – a clever disguise to deter potential predators.

This small creature, only 2 inches (approximately 5 cm) when fully grown, features a glossy, dark brown or black body, speckled with white or light-colored dots. Again, emphasizing its defense strategy through mimicry.

What takes center stage in its appearance is a distinct pair of false eye spots located on the thorax. These large, bright eyespots, paired with a small, unique pair of antennae, give the caterpillar a snake-like appearance, another deception to keep predators at bay.

In the late instar stage, the caterpillar shifts its color. It transitions into a vibrant green, mimicking a fresh leaf – an ideal camouflage in their birch and aspen habitats.

You’ll notice that these older caterpillars also have blue and yellow markings, making them a truly remarkable specimen.

Interesting to note, Canadian Tiger Swallowtails have a unique organ known as the osmeterium. When disturbed, the caterpillar reveals this yellow, forked, gland from behind its head, releasing a foul smell to ward off attackers.

It’s one among many interesting facets to the appearance and behavior of this early stage in the Swallowtail’s life cycle.

Take a moment to appreciate these surprisingly detailed strategies for survival—they’re small but fierce fighters in the animal kingdom.

What is the Life Cycle of Canadian Tiger Swallowtail?

The life cycle of the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail is fascinating and unfolds in four main stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.

  1. Egg: The life cycle begins when the female lays her eggs on the leaves of host plants. These eggs are tiny, round, and green, usually laid one at a time and hatch in about 4 to 10 days.
  2. Larva (Caterpillar): The next stage is the larva or caterpillar stage. Initially, the caterpillar is bird droppings-like but grows into a large green caterpillar with yellow spots and an eyespot on the upper body. The larval stage lasts about 10 to 30 days, feeding vigorously on the host plants.
  3. Pupa (Chrysalis): After enough feeding, the caterpillar enters the pupa or chrysalis stage, appearing as a brown or green mummy-like cocoon, carefully attached to a branch or stem. This stage can last from 10 days to several weeks depending on weather conditions.
  4. Adult: Then, the transformation occurs, and the fully grown adult butterfly emerges. It then starts the life cycle anew by mating and laying eggs.

In a year, the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail can have one to two generations, depending on geographical location.

In northern regions, it usually has one generation while in southern regions, two generations are common. The whole life span, from egg to adult, falls between 4 and 7 weeks.

What Is the Average Life Expectancy of a Canadian Tiger Swallowtail?

You might be astounded to learn the average life expectancy of the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail. Despite their vibrant and energetic existence, these organisms have a relatively short lifespan.

Typically, the life expectancy of this butterfly falls within the range of 2 to 3 weeks in the adult stage.

  • Larva to Pupa: Interestingly, most of their life is spent in the early stages. The larvae state lasts for approximately 2 months before it pupates into a cocoon.
  • Winter Pupa: A remarkable trait of these species is their ability to overwinter as pupae. This dormant phase could extend the life cycle up to 8 to 9 months in a year.
  • Adult Life: On emerging from pupae, their active adult life is merely fleeting, limited to max of 3 weeks.

Do keep in mind, these figures are averages. Various factors such as weather conditions, availability of food, and predators directly impact their survival rate.

In the wild, competition and natural perils often shorten their lifespan considerably. Preservation and conservation go a long way in increasing the chances of longer life for these vibrant butterflies.

What Does the Diet of a Canadian Tiger Swallowtail Consist Of?

Unveiling the dietary patterns of the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail is an essential part in understanding this butterfly species.

Initially, it’s crucial to understand that in the early caterpillar stage, the diet primarily includes the leaves of host plants.

These can be a variety of trees, such as poplar, birch, and cherry. The larvae essentially feed on the foliage, gaining adequate nourishment to progress to their next stage of life.

Further development leads them to their pupal stage, where they reside in a chrysalis and don’t intake any food for a period of time.

They sustain themselves on the energy already stored from the caterpillar stage until they metamorphose into adults.

Now, the diet undergoes a fascinating change in the adult stage. To fuel their airborne endeavors, the adult butterflies feed on nectar from various flowers.

Some favorites are lilac, milkweed, and even species like wild cherry and chokecherry. Their long proboscis allows extracting nectar from the depths of these flowers effortless.

Sometimes, they can even be spotted at the edges of puddles, mud, or damp sand. But they aren’t there for the water.

They are partaking in what’s known as puddling, where they extract essential minerals and salts from the damp particles.

Hence, a butterfly’s diet changes drastically from stage to stage, depending on their growth, energy levels and requirements for reproduction.

Which Plants Serve as the Primary Hosts for Canadian Tiger Swallowtail?

Canadian Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio canadensis) have a diverse selection of host plants. As larva, the primary choice is deciduous trees.

The most preferred are:

  • Poplar Species
  • Cherry Trees
  • Birch Trees
  • Aspen Trees

Remember, these trees are crucial sources for the caterpillars’ nourishment. They rely on this vegetation to mature and eventually undergo metamorphosis.

Therefore, preserving these particular host plants is essential in supporting the cycle of Canadian Tiger Swallowtails.

While butterfly gardens and conservation efforts often focus on milkweed for Monarchs, we should not forget about cherries for our Canadian Tiger Swallowtails.

These nectar-rich plants not only aid them in their sustenance, but also provide a safe haven for laying eggs. When planting for these butterflies, consistency in the plant selection results in higher success rates in attracting them.

As adult butterflies, their preferences expand to a wider range of plants for nectar consumption. Aside from cherries, they also frequent lilac, milkweed, and thistle flowers.

Hence, these plants serve as hospitable environments for the adult swallowtails to thrive.

In summary, as caterpillars, they rely mostly on deciduous trees like poplars, cherries, birch, and aspen. As adults, they tend to frequent cherries, lilacs, milkweeds, and thistles for nectar consumption.

Care should be taken to include these plant types when trying to attract or conserve Canadian Tiger Swallowtails.

What are the Unique Mimicry Behaviors in Canadian Tiger Swallowtail?

The Canadian Tiger Swallowtail exhibits a fascinating behaviour of mimicry. Batesian mimicry is one such tactic exhibited by the larvae.

The younger caterpillars of this species mimic bird droppings, an effective tactic to evade predators. Not only do they resemble the appearance, but they also maintain stillness, enhancing the guise.

Next, the older caterpillars employ mimicry too, taking on the form of a snake. With a swollen thorax, distinctive color patterns simulating eyes, and an inflated head, the larvae undeniably bear a snake-like appearance.

When threatened, they even mimic snake movements, swaying from side to side.

The adult butterflies employ sexual mimicry. Males and females have different color patterns. Females often display more subdued coloration, a tactic to reduce visibility to predators.

At times, they mimic male coloration to discourage unwanted attention from males.

Canadian Tiger Swallowtail employs mimicry at different life stages for survival. From bird droppings to snakes to opposite sex, the butterfly’s mimicry forms a critical part of its behaviour.

What Are the Main Threats to Canadian Tiger Swallowtail Populations?

Canadian Tiger Swallowtail butterflies, enchanting creatures with their beautiful black and yellow patterns, face unique threats that endanger their existence.

Habitat destruction tops the list. Rapid urbanization and deforestation drastically reduce the available green spaces and plant diversity crucial for their survival.

Climate change presents another significant threat. It disturbs the normal cycle of seasons, thereby disrupting the butterflies’ life cycle and patterns.

Harsh and unpredictable weather conditions can also end their lives prematurely or cause undue stress.

Lastly, invasive species and pesticides play detrimental roles. Invasive plants compete with native ones, depriving the butterflies of their primary food source and nesting grounds, while ingestible pesticides can cause lethal poisoning.

In an attempt to protect and conserve these delightful creatures, it’s crucial to take into account these threats and work towards mitigating them.

Ensuring protected habitats, controlling the use of pesticides, and managing invasive species are some of the steps to be taken.


In conclusion, the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail is a remarkable and fascinating creature, boasting unique characteristics, behaviors, and a fascinating life cycle.

Understanding and respecting this incredible species contributes to the overall health of Canada’s ecosystem.

Please feel free to share your thoughts or experiences of the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail in the comments below.

Butterflies   Updated: July 19, 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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