Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly: Identification, Life Cycle, and Behavior

In this article, you’ll delve into the fascinating world of the Scarce Swallowtail butterfly.

You’ll learn about its classification, main characteristics, life cycle, and behavior.

We’ll also cover the key threats to its population, and how to identify the male and female of the species.

scarce swallowtail butterfly

What is the Classification of Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly?

Understanding the classification of the Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly starts with knowing in which Kingdom it belongs.

The Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly, scientifically named Iphiclides podalirius, belongs to the Animalia Kingdom, making it one of the myriad creatures under this extensive group.

As we delve further into its taxonomy, we’ll find that:

  • Under the Phylum Arthropoda, it’s a member of Insecta class, signifying it’s an insect with a hard exoskeleton.
  • It asserts its position in the Lepidoptera Order, classifying itself among butterflies and moths.
  • Specifically, it’s from the Papilionidae Family, which is the Swallowtail butterflies.

This particular creature is well-placed in the Podalirius Genus, aligning it with few others of its kind.

By this knowledge, you can confidently attest that the Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly (or Iphiclides podalirius) is a true butterfly of the Papilionidae family.

The captivating specimen is legitimately a member of the insects (Insecta), housed under the Phylum Arthropoda, within the Kingdom of Animalia.

Its classification gives you insight into its lineage and biodiversity, unraveling a world filled with detailed systematic categorization.

What is the Distribution of Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly?

When you are planning to observe the Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly, knowing its geographic distribution can really help.

This mesmerizing butterfly species can primarily be seen in the Palaearctic ecozone, which spans from Western Europe through Russia to China.

  • Western Europe Presence: From countries like France and Spain, all the way to Italy and as far north as Denmark, these butterflies are a common sight. Notably, they’re more prevalent in the southern part of this region.
  • Eastern Reach: In the east, their range expands to include countries like Greece, Turkey, and then extends to cover large parts of Russia, China, and even Japan.


Regions Countries
Western Europe France, Spain, Italy, Denmark
Eastern Europe/Asia Greece, Turkey, Russia, China, Japan

The species prefers temperate climates and is often found in habitats comprising lush green hills, meadows, and gardens.

Remember to keep an eye out for the Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly during your excursions!

What are the Main Characteristics of the Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly?

The Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly (Iphiclides podalirius) is a stunning creature, immediately recognized by its distinctive flight pattern.

  • Size: It’s a large butterfly, with wings that span from 2.6 to 3.3 inches (65-85 mm). Though size may vary, it consistently ranks among the larger European butterfly species.
  • Color and pattern: Look for a creamy white base color on the wings. Black tiger-like stripes and blue and red spots near the rear make this butterfly unmistakable. The hindwings possess long ‘tails,’ a feature leading to its ‘Swallowtail’ moniker.
  • Flight pattern: The scarce swallowtail butterfly exhibits a unique flight pattern. Its wings undulate in a sideways figure-eight during flight, an unusual characteristic among its family.

These are the distinguishing features of the Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly, setting it apart from other species with its blend of grace and brilliance.

How to Identify Male and Female Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly?

Distinguishing between the sexes of the Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly, scientifically known as Iphiclides podalirius, is an interesting task.

Unlike other butterfly species, the sexual dimorphism isn’t as obvious in these butterflies. However, there are a few subtle ways you can eventually differentiate a male from a female.

To start with, look at the size. Female Scarce Swallowtails are typically larger than males. While the difference may not be drastic, a noticeably larger butterfly is likely to be female.

The male typically measures around 2.6-3 inches (65-75 mm) in wingspan whereas the female can measure up to 3-3.5 inches (75-90 mm).

Next, observe the coloration of the wings. To the untrained eye, the patterns may appear identical. But on close observation, females often exhibit darker and more pronounced patterns on their wings than the males.

Notice the black stripes on the white wings – if they are more vivid, you’re likely looking at a female.

Finally, consider their behavior. Males are much more active and restless, often seen flitting around rapidly while the females tend to be more serene and calculated in their movements.

Take your time studying these beautiful creatures. With time and practice, the distinctions will become clearer, enabling you to easily identify male and female Scarce Swallowtail butterflies.

What is the Mating Ritual of Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly?

You may be surprised by the elaborate courtship behavior of Scarce Swallowtail butterflies. Begin by picturing a sunny day in their natural habitat.

The male butterfly, distinguished by smaller hind wings and more vibrant coloring, spots a female and initiates the ritual.

Firstly, males perform a spectacular flight dance to catch the female’s attention. This usually involves hovering over or in front of her, displaying his brightly colored wings.

Following this, the male will unleash pheromones from his hind wings. These chemical signals are irresistible to the female butterflies and lure her into mating.

Next, we see pairs of Scarce Swallowtail butterflies flying in tandem, a sure sign that the male’s courtship has been successful.

This can lead to a period of copulation that lasts up to a couple of hours. During this time, the male passes on a nutritious spermatophore, providing energy for the female’s forthcoming egg-laying.

Lastly, after mating, the female begins her search for suitable host plants, like the citrus tree. This is where she will lay her eggs and the next stage of their life cycle begins.

Overall, the mating ritual of the Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly is an intriguing spectacle – a blend of visual delight, chemical lure, and energy transfer.

What Does the Caterpillar of Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly Look Like?

The caterpillar of a Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly is a sight to behold. It is particular distinctive due to its unique physical characteristics.

Known for its bright green body and slender size, it demands a second look.

Red and blue spots adorn its sides, enhancing its visual appeal. On a close look, you might notice a hint of yellow in these spots.

The body extends close to 2 inches long (about 5cm) when fully mature, indicating readiness to transform.

Its most noticeable feature is the horn-like protrusion on its rear end. This horn is a defense mechanism, releasing a foul smell when threatened. Also, the caterpillar’s body is segmented, with each segment having a pair of false eyes giving it a snake-like appearance.

Interestingly, its skin has a rough texture. This serves as its first line of defense against predators. Additionally, it has a pair of feet with small gripping claws at the end, enabling it to firmly attach to plant stems.

In conclusion, the caterpillar displays an array of distinctive features. From its bright green body with red and blue spots, snake-like appearance, to its horn that oozes an unpleasant smell, it’s an intriguing creature before its metamorphosis into the stunning Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly.

What is the Life Cycle of Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly?

The life cycle of the Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly primarily consists of four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.

The entire process generally begins in the spring. Female butterflies lay eggs on select host plants, such as blackthorn and hawthorn. Each egg, about 1mm in size, are carefully deposited on the underside of leaves.

After about 5-10 days, depending on temperature, small, caterpillar-like larvae emerge from these eggs. The larvae will feast on the leaves of the host plant, exponentially growing in size.

At this stage, they possess a unique appearance, resembling bird droppings to deter predators.

The next phase of this journey is the pupal stage. The larvae spin a silk anchor on a twig or leaf before shedding their final larval skin. They then enter a resting phase, transforming into a chrysalis.

This process of transformation, called metamorphosis, can last from 16 days up to a month, again, dependent on temperature. It’s during this stage that they embody the famous butterfly appearance.

Finally, the fully developed adult butterflies break free from the chrysalis. Their main goals as adults are to mate and lay the next generation of eggs, restarting this cycle of life and ensuring the survival of their species.

The complete life cycle from egg to adult can last from 40 to 60 days.

In a nutshell, these are the processes and stages that a Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly goes through during its typical life cycle.

What Is the Average Life Expectancy of a Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly?

The Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly, like most butterflies, has a rather short lifespan. From egg to adult, their life cycle typically spans over 30 to 40 days; the adult butterflies live for merely 7 to 10 days. Although this may seem fleeting, it is average for many butterfly species.

The adult butterfly’s short lifespan is an exciting phase filled with movement and change. The goal for this phase is primarily reproduction.

Their time is fully consumed by finding mates, laying eggs, and in some cases, traveling to wintering locations.

The short life expectancy of the Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly is one of nature’s many strategies to balance survival and reproduction.

Remember, while these numbers are averages, numerous factors can influence a butterfly’s lifespan such as environment, species, predation, and availability of food sources.

It’s important to realize that, although relatively short-lived, the Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly lives a vibrant and eventful life.

This brief journey, however, is part of a continuous loop, as its offspring pick up where it left off, ensuring the survival of the species.

What Does the Diet of a Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly Consist Of?

The diet of the Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly, which comes with a scientific name Iphiclides podalirius, is primarily plant-based. As larvae, they feed upon leaves.

Their favorites are those from the Rosaceae family of plants, such as the blackthorn, chokeberry, and hawthorn.

  • At the caterpillar stage, they also consume leaves from other plants surrounded by their habitat.
  • In adulthood, they shift from a leaf-based diet to nectar. They often flit from flower to flower, sipping nectar for sustenance.

This change in nutrition is crucial for their growth, development, and survival. As beautiful nectarivores, they are known to visit a wide variety of flower species. Some of these blossoms include:

  • Lavender
  • Butterfly Bush
  • Echinacea
  • Compass Plant

Their predilection for these types of flowers speaks volumes about their potentially crucial roles in pollination of these plants.

The Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly is not just a stunning creature, but also an essential part of our ecosystem.

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

Scarce Swallowtail Butterflies are principally reliant on certain plants during their larval stage. These plants not only provide nourishment for the growing caterpillars but also serve as the primary sites for egg laying.

  • The primary host plant for Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly is, by far, the pear tree, all thanks to its abundance of leaves.
  • Other than pear trees, this species can also depend on plants from the Rosaceae family which extends to apple trees, plum trees, almond trees as well as peach trees.

These caterpillars are not picky and are flexible with their choice of food, but these plants are their go-to options. Although their adaptability allows them to survive even when these preferred host plants are limited, a healthy diet directly determines their ability to metamorphose into a butterfly.

Take into consideration that the distribution of these plants directly impact the butterfly population, significantly affecting the species survival rate.

Hence, the diversity and abundance of these host plants play a vital role in the conservation of Scarce Swallowtail Butterflies.

In conclusion, if you’re planning to promote Scarce Swallowtail butterfly survival in your region, planting a pear tree or one from the Rosaceae family in your garden would be an outstanding contribution.

What are the Unique Mimicry Behaviors in Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly?

Scarce Swallowtail Butterflies exhibit interesting mimicry behaviors. Batesian mimicry, where a non-toxic species resembles a toxic species to deter predators, is the key to their survival.

However, their form of mimicry also relates to movement and patterns.

  • Firstly, they mimic the flying pattern of distasteful butterflies. Their slow, fluttering flight with intervals of gliding is a great resemblance of the flight patterns of some toxic butterflies.
  • Secondly, the false ‘eye’ markings on their lower wings serve as a unique mimicry behavior. When disturbed, they present these fake eyes to would-be predators, creating an illusion of a larger, perhaps more threatening creature. This defensive behavior often deters potential threats.
  • Finally, while at rest with wings closed, their pale coloration and pattern mimics a withered leaf, effectively camouflaging them in their environment.

This remarkable mimicry is a fantastic survival strategy for the Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly.

Despite being non-threatening and non-toxic, this ingenious butterfly has evolved these mimicry behaviors to survive against predators.

What Are the Main Threats to Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly Populations?

You may wonder, what are the main threats that affect the life and survival of the scarce Swallowtail Butterfly? The largest and most direct threat to these butterflies is habitat loss.

As humans continue to expand their towns and cities, the natural habitats of these butterflies are progressively destroyed, reducing their population drastically.

Another major threat is pollution. Various forms of environmental pollution, ranging from water contamination to atmospheric pollution, negatively affect the health of the butterflies and their larvae.

Pesticides are particularly harmful, causing lethal and sub-lethal effects such as growth degeneration and impaired reproduction.

Thirdly, climate change poses a threat to the Swallowtail Butterfly. Unpredictable weather patterns disrupt their normal lifecycle, and a warming climate may make some habitats inhospitable.

For these cold-loving creatures, climate change could mean an extensive reduction in their habitable range.

Lastly, over-collection of these butterflies for scientific research and trading purposes is also a significant threat.

Although necessary to some extent for conservation efforts, unregulated collection can deplete local populations and disturb the species’ natural balance.

The survival of the Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly is hanging in the balance, and as exemplified, human activities seem to be the most significant contributors to their declining populations.

Therefore, to ensure these beautiful creatures thrive, it’s essential to address these issues promptly and responsibly.

Action could include habitat preservation, control of pollution, research on the impact of climate change, and regulation of butterfly collection practices.


In conclusion, the Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly is a fascinating creature, remarkable for its unique appearance, life cycle, and behavior.

Appreciating and understanding these beautiful butterflies will only increase our desire to conserve and protect them.

We’d love to hear your thoughts about the Scarce Swallowtail Butterfly, so please feel free to leave a comment.

Butterflies   Updated: September 14, 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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