Two-tailed Swallowtail Butterfly: Identification, Life Cycle, and Behavior

You’re about to delve into the fascinating world of the Two-tailed Swallowtail Butterfly. You’ll learn everything from identification, its life cycle, to its unique behaviors.

Get ready to unravel the mysteries of this captivating creature!

Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)

What is the Classification of Two-tailed Swallowtail Butterfly?

The Two-tailed Swallowtail Butterfly, scientifically named Papilio multicaudata, falls into the Animalia kingdom. Specifically, it belongs to the Arthropoda phylum, continuing further into the Insecta class. The butterfly, by extension, is part of the Lepidoptera order.

For a more specific classification, it belongs to the Papilionidae family. This is a group known for large, colorful butterflies, often with tail-like extensions on their hind wings.

As the name suggests, the Two-tailed Swallowtail has two tails on each hindwing, making it a unique member of this family.

Within the Papilionidae family, it’s part of the Papilio genus. This genus is distinguished by strong, fast flight and many species being beneficial garden pollinators. The precise classification is as follows:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Class: Insecta
  • Order: Lepidoptera
  • Family: Papilionidae
  • Genus: Papilio
  • Species: P. multicaudata

At the species level, Papilio multicaudata, or the Two-tailed Swallowtail, holds its title as the state butterfly of Arizona. Its spectacular display of tails and brilliant coloration sets it apart, meriting study and conversation.

Knowing its classification allows you to place the Two-tailed Swallowtail in the grand scheme of butterfly taxonomy.

By doing this, you can truly appreciate its unique positioning in the biodiverse world of butterflies.

What is the Distribution of Two-tailed Swallowtail Butterfly?

The Two-tailed Swallowtail Butterfly enjoys a broad geographical range. You can commonly find them throughout North America, predominantly in the United States and Mexico.

  • In the United States, these captivating insects spread widely across many states. Beyond the Rocky Mountains, all across western Canada into the Great Plains, and even down to the Baja California Peninsula in Mexico, these beauties make their presence known.

Different environments suit the Two-tailed Swallowtail Butterfly too. From open woodlands and forests, to parks and gardens, these butterflies navigate various habitats with ease. This adaptability contributes to their wide distribution.

While they favor lower elevations, it’s not unusual to encounter these Swallowtails at an altitude of up to 9000 feet or 2743 meters. In fact, in Arizona, these butterflies bag the title of being the State Butterfly.

However, the geographical distribution of the Two-tailed Swallowtail Butterfly is not rigid. Seasonal movements, as well as variations in local climate and food availability, can result in them venturing into new territories.

The Two-tailed Swallowtail Butterfly proves to be quite the explorer, not contained easily within the bounds of geographical limits. So, keep an eye out. You never know, you might catch sight of one in your very own backyard.

What are the Main Characteristics of the Two-tailed Swallowtail Butterfly?

The Two-tailed Swallowtail Butterfly, scientifically known as Papilio multicaudata, is a truly wondrous creature with an array of fascinating characteristics.

With a wingspan ranging between 3.5 and 5 inches (9-13 cm), it ranks as one of the largest butterflies in North America.

  • Vivid Coloration: When it comes to design, the bright yellow base color of the dorsum, or upper side, is complemented by a forewing pattern of dark black stripes. You’ll be captivated by four distinct black ‘eye spots’ circling a noticeable orange, crescent-shaped spot on the underside of the hindwing.
  • Signature Tails: The ‘swallowtails’, from which the butterfly gets its name, are prominent. The creature boasts not just one but two distinctive, elongated extensions resembling a forked tail – hence, the moniker ‘Two-tailed Swallowtail’.

When it comes to movement, this butterfly is just as exceptional. It’s known for its fast and powerful flight style, darting effortlessly between plants and across open spaces.

These stunning creatures are thus not only marked out by their visual appeal but also their unique behavior and flight patterns in nature.

How to Identify Male and Female Two-tailed Swallowtail Butterfly?

To differentiate between male and female Two-tailed Swallowtail Butterflies, take a close look at their wings.

The wings of the males are typically adorned with a broad, black band. In contrast, the wings of the females display a blue band that’s dotted with orange spots.

Male Trait One: Yellow with Broad Black Band

Males possess yellow wings that feature a broad, black band. This black band might also be apparent on the hindwings.

Female Trait One: Blue Band with Orange Spots

Females, on the other hand, stand out with blue bands complete with orange spots on their wings. Their hindwings display similar markings.

Pay special attention to the size as well. Males, measuring 4 to 4.5 inches (10.16 to 11.43 cm), are often smaller than their female counterparts who can span 4.5 to 5 inches (11.43 to 12.7 cm).

Table: Characteristics for Identification

Gender Color of Wing Band Size
Males Broad Black 4 to 4.5 inches (10.16 to 11.43 cm)
Females Blue with orange spots 4.5 to 5 inches (11.43 to 12.7 cm)

Identifying the Two-tailed Swallowtail Butterfly gender aids in comprehension of their life cycle and behavior. With these tips, spotting the differences becomes a walk in the park.

What is the Mating Ritual of Two-tailed Swallowtail Butterfly?

Papilio multicaudata, known as the Two-tailed Swallowtail Butterfly, has a fascinating mating ritual.

In stark contrast to other butterfly species, the female chases the male during the initial stages of courtship. After this chase, the male, subject to female approval, completes an intricate courtship dance.

This courtship dance is one of the many highlights in the life cycle of these butterflies. The male orients himself above or beside the female and rapidly vibrates his wings.

At the same time, he releases pheromones to make himself more appealing to her. This combination of movement and scent, designed to win her over, is a unique characteristic of their mating ritual.

Following successful courtship, the mating process begins. Once their bodies align and connect, they remain in this position for an hour or two. After mating, the female shifts her focus to laying eggs, while the male may seek other mates.

Beyond this stereotypical routine, numerous factors can influence the mating rituals in butterflies. These range from the age of the butterflies to environmental conditions.

Although there is a common thread to the breeding routine, variation in behavior should be expected.

What Does the Caterpillar of Two-tailed Swallowtail Butterfly Look Like?

The caterpillar of the Two-tailed Swallowtail Butterfly is indeed a sight to behold. During its early stages, it sports a smooth, green body with black bands that feature attractive, little orange spots. This vibrant facade not only commands attention but also serves as a protective mechanism against predators.

As the caterpillar progresses through its life stages, you’ll note discernible changes in its appearance. Once it shifts into its fifth instar, the caterpillar takes on a much thicker form with its body transforming into a deep green hue.

Here, you’ll see the black bands become less prominent, but the orange spots remain visibly distinct.

One of the caterpillar’s most intriguing features is its osmeterium, a unique organ not widely found in many caterpillar species.

When this caterpillar senses danger, it exhibits an unusual behaviour where it extends its osmeterium. The bright, horn-like structure emits an alarming scent, acting as an effective deterrent toward would-be predators.

In terms of size, the caterpillar in its full growth reaches up to 2 inches (approximately 5 centimetres) long. The chunky, robust form it takes in its later stages has a unique charm compared to the slender elegance it portrayed in its juvenile stage.

Let’s not forget the two lines of short spiky bristles lining its back, adding a remarkable texture to its overall design!

The caterpillar of the Two-tailed Swallowtail is a blend of striking visual excitement and intriguing biological features, making it a compelling part of the species’ life cycle.

What is the Life Cycle of Two-tailed Swallowtail Butterfly?

The life cycle of the Two-tailed Swallowtail Butterfly, like most butterflies, consists of four main stages. These stages are the egg, the caterpillar or larva, the pupa, and the adult.

A female Two-tailed Swallowtail will lay her eggs individually on the leaves of various host plants. Most often, these plants are members of the Rutaceae family, such as citrus plants. After about 4-10 days, the eggs hatch into small green caterpillars.

As caterpillars, the Two-tailed Swallowtails feed voraciously on the leaves of their host plants. They continue to grow and molt, passing through five instars or growth stages over the course of 4-6 weeks.

At the end of this period, the fully grown caterpillar creates a chrysalis or pupa, in which it will undergo a remarkable transformation.

This pupal stage lasts for about 2-3 weeks, during which the caterpillar’s old body parts undergo a remarkable transformation to become a beautiful adult butterfly.

Finally, the adult butterfly emerges from the pupa. Adult Two-Tailed Swallowtails sip nectar from a variety of flowers. These butterflies are active during the day and have a single flight period each year in the spring.

So, this completes the life cycle of the Two-tailed Swallowtail butterfly. Each phase has a transformative power, taking this creature from egg, to caterpillar, to cocoon, to the remarkable flying beauty we all adore.

What Is the Average Life Expectancy of a Two-tailed Swallowtail Butterfly?

The Two-tailed Swallowtail Butterfly, like many of their kind, experiences a rather fleeting existence. Their lifespan, once they reach the butterfly stage, averages between 2 to 4 weeks.

It’s during this period that their primary focus revolves around reproduction, ensuring the continuation of the species.

However, understanding their lifespan necessitates a look at their entire life cycle. From egg to larva, and then pupa, the entire transformation can span between 4 to 6 weeks depending on the environment and availability of food. The pupa stage, commonly called the chrysalis, can last from 1 to 3 weeks.

In cooler climates, the Two-tailed Swallowtail might overwinter as a chrysalis, prolonging the life cycle by essentially ‘pausing’ development. This adaptation significantly extends the total lifespan.

So, while the butterfly itself lives for just a few weeks, the entire life cycle can extend up to 9 months under these conditions.

Due to this, the ‘average life expectancy’ of a Two-tailed Swallowtail Butterfly varies. It depends quite a lot on local conditions, seasonal changes, and geographical location.

Overall, it can be said that while the butterfly stage is short-lived, the whole life process of these fascinating creatures is a brilliant display of adaptability and survival.

What Does the Diet of a Two-tailed Swallowtail Butterfly Consist Of?

The diet of a two-tailed swallowtail butterfly comprises mainly of nectar and water, in its adult stage. They primarily feed on floral nectar as their primary sustenance, which powers their flight and provides essential nutrients necessary for mating.

  • Flowers of choice: Business-like butterflies like them have preferences; they are especially attracted to flowers such as lilies, daisies, and coneflowers. They typically go for brightly colored flowers sporting red, yellow, or orange shades. This is a direct mirror of their vibrant lives – they love loud, flashy attractions.
  • Water and minerals: Beyond nectar, they never underestimate the power of good hydration. Two-tailed swallowtails often found sipping on water from puddles or damp soil. In this act, also known as ‘puddling,’ they absorb essential minerals easily missed in their nectar-based diet.

Interestingly, they aren’t purely vegetarians. During the caterpillar phase, their diet features an interesting menu of leaves.

Host plants like ash, cherry, and poplar trees often see these caterpillars munching on their leaves. This offers them the nutrition necessary for the next stage of their life, leading up to the transformation to the butterfly stage.

Overall, whether it’s nectar, water, or leaves, these butterflies navigate their diet like pros, extracting every ounce of energy they can from their vibrant surroundings.

It’s a diet finely crafted by nature, emphasizing their absolute commitment to life and vibrancy!

Which Plants Serve as the Primary Hosts for Two-tailed Swallowtail Butterfly?

One of the most important interactions two-tailed swallowtail butterflies have with their environment is centered around finding suitable host plants.

These plants enable the butterfly at the caterpillar stage to feed and mature. The two-tailed swallowtail butterflies are quite selective, mainly preferring plants from the Rosaceae family.

Two species from this family stand out as key hosts: the chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) and the bitter cherry (Prunus emarginata).

These deciduous shrubs and small trees provide not only a significant source of food, but also a safe place to metamorphose into adult butterflies.

In addition to the two species of Prunus, the two-tailed swallowtails also lay their eggs on ash trees (Fraxinus spp.), hoptrees (Ptelea trifoliata), and riparian willow species (Salix spp.).

Each of these host plants offers an abundant supply of tender leaves, perfect for the caterpillars to feast on.

In their native desert environments, the butterflies are also known to utilize Arizona sycamore (Platanus wrightii) and Fremont cottonwood (Populus fremontii) as host plants. However, they show more preference towards the aforementioned plants in more temperate regions.

It’s essential to note that the existence of these primary host plants in their environment is a key factor determining the survival and thriving of two-tailed swallowtail populations.

Ensuring the availability of these plant species in butterfly conservation zones can significantly contribute to sustaining and growing the butterfly populations.

What’s more, these host plants indirectly aid in pollination, since the adult butterflies consume nectar from various flowers as their food source. Consequently, they help in the sustainability of the ecosystem and biodiversity.

What are the Unique Mimicry Behaviors in Two-tailed Swallowtail Butterfly?

The Two-tailed Swallowtail Butterfly, known scientifically as Papilio multicaudata, showcases a fascinating mimicry behavior. As a defense mechanism, this butterfly has evolved an uncanny resemblance to unpalatable or dangerous species.

Interesting is, the caterpillars of the Two-tailed Swallowtail Butterfly exhibit a deceptive display when threatened. They have a unique organ called the “osmeterium”, hidden behind their head which resembles a snake’s tongue when protruded.

This mimicry is intentional and successful to deter predators who may fear the striking resemblance to a serpent.

However, it’s essential to note how the adults use mimicry as well. When resting or feeding, they display their brighter, upper-wing patterns.

But when they detect danger, they camouflage with the environment by showing their under-wing coloration, which is more subdued and blends with foliage around them.

Additionally, they’re often mistaken for the Pipevine Swallowtail, a species that has an unpleasant taste for predators.

The Two-tailed Swallowtail “mimics” the Pipevine to gain protection, although they don’t share the same unpalatable qualities. Hence, the Two-tailed Swallowtail employs mimicry in both their infant and adult stages for survival.

These behaviors are a testament to the intricate adaptation mechanisms in nature. This distinctive mimicry behavior enhances the survival chances for the species, reflecting the sophisticated evolutionary processes in these delicate creatures.

What Are the Main Threats to Two-tailed Swallowtail Butterfly Populations?

Sadly, like many other wildlife species, the two-tailed swallowtail butterfly is also facing numerous threats.

First and foremost, habitat loss sits at the top of this negative list. As human activities continue to expand, their natural spaces are shrinking.

Urbanization, deforestation, and agriculture are all damaging their habitats, reducing the areas where these butterflies can live and breed.

Another threat comes in the form of climate change. Shifts in weather patterns lead to alterations in the butterfly’s life cycle and food sources. For example, unpredictable climate might cause the plants they rely on for food and shelter to either disappear or shift in range.

Finally, pesticides and toxins pose a huge risk. While these chemicals are often used to control pests, they can also unintentionally harm beneficial insects, including our two-tailed swallowtail butterflies.

Let’s not forget invasive species, either. They compete with the butterflies for resources, and can sometimes even prey on them.

As if this were not enough, the butterflies also face a threat from collectors. Yes, these stunning creatures are sometimes illegally collected and sold, further threatening their numbers.

Remember, the survival of the two-tailed swallowtail butterfly is a sensitive issue. They are not just another beautiful insect – they play a vital role in maintaining the balance of our ecosystems.

So, let’s unite and take concrete steps to protect them from these threats. We owe it to these stunning, fluttering wonders of nature, and to future generations who deserve to witness their beauty too.


As we come to the end of our exploration on the two-tailed swallowtail butterfly, it’s evident that this species is compelling.

Its complex life cycle, identifiable features, and unique behaviors contribute to its captivating nature.

We invite you to share your thoughts and experiences with the two-tailed swallowtail butterfly in the comments below.

Butterflies   Updated: September 13, 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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