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Manitoba Museum

Butterflies and Moths (Lepidoptera)

Swallowtail Butterflies


These well-known butterflies visit flowers, mud puddles, and gardens. Adults feed on nectar and frequently visit plants in the Parsley family. To deter predators, undeveloped larvae look like bird droppings to cause confusion. Developed larvae have extendable antennae-like organs that release chemicals that are distasteful or poisonous. Some adult swallowtails advertise that they are poisonous with bold colours. Many adults have eyespots on their hindwings to trick predators into attacking less vulnerable body parts.

Representative Genera and Species:

Papilio canadensis, P. glaucus, P. polyxenes, P. zelicaon

Pollinator Life Cycle:

Males frequently seek out mates on hilltops. Females lay eggs singly on host plant leaves, which are often members of the Parsley family. The immature larvae tend to feed at night and rest in or under leaves during the day. Pupae of North American species over-winter, anchored to branches or stems by a knob of silk at one end and a girdle around the middle.

Rarity Status:

No Swallowtails are considered rare in Canada, though several species are listed as “may be at risk” or “sensitive” in parts of their range.

Physical Appearance:

Swallowtails are large butterflies with bright colouration. Their forewings are often black or yellow, with spots or bands of white, metallic blue, orange, or dark brown. Many species have characteristic hindwing tails. Immature larvae have the mottled appearance of bird droppings, while mature larvae have antennae-like organs.

Pollinator Habitat:

Open fields and woods, gardens, farmyards, backyards, scrub areas, forest edges or clearings, meadows, pastures, clearings, exposed hilltops, trails, river and stream banks, and roadsides. Females are often found among their food plants.

Canadian Distribution:

  • Alberta
  • British Columbia
  • Manitoba
  • New Brunswick
  • Newfoundland/Labrador
  • Northwest Territories
  • Nova Scotia
  • Nunavut
  • Ontario
  • Prince Edward Island
  • Quebec
  • Saskatchewan
  • Yukon

Prairie Types:

  • Fescue Prairie
  • Mixed Grass Prairie
  • Tall Grass Prairie
Swallowtail Butterflies