Swallowtail Butterfly Identification and Comparison

This magnificent family (Papilionidae) of large butterflies is loved by many, and includes more than 600 species worldwide.

Most of these large, brightly colored butterflies feature tails on their hind wings.  These tail-like appendages resemble the tails of swallow family of birds, hence their name. However, some, like the Indra and Polydamus, do not have tails.

Several species of Swallowtails are predominantly black, and share similar yellow, blue and orange markings. Identification is often difficult. Shown below are photographs of several common Swallowtail butterflies to aid in identification.

Swallowtail Butterfly Identification Chart

The identification chart below compares the colors and features of common Swallowtail butterflies.

Swallowtail butterfly identification chart

Read More About These Swallowtail Species

Anise Swallowtail Black Swallowtail
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Giant Swallowtail
Indra Swallowtail Palamedes Swallowtail
Pale Swallowtail Pipevine Swallowtail
Polydamas Swallowtail Spicebush Swallowtail
Two-Tailed Swallowtail Western Tiger Swallowtail
Zebra Swallowtail  



Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterfly

The male Black Swallowtail Butterfly has a row of large yellow-colored spots across the middle of its wings which are more dominant than on the female
The second Black Swallowtail butterfly to emerge from its chrysalis, on April 1, 2014, after overwintering in Texas

The female Black Swallowtail has a row of much smaller spots, and its patch of iridescent blue on the hind wings is more dominant than on the male

The third Black Swallowtail butterfly to emerge from its chrysalis, on April 4, 2014, after overwintering

Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly

Wings are black with light colored spots, or scales, on the trailing edges.
On the male, the spots are a pale green, and on the female the spots are iridescent blue. The underwings feature bright orange spots.

Male Spicebush Butterfly

Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly

Female Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly
Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly

Male Spicebush Swallowtail (green coloration, on the left) pursues female (blue coloration, on the right)
Male Spicebush Swallowtail (green coloration) pursues female (blue coloration)

The chart below shows the differences seen in the ventral views of the Black Swallowtail and the Spicebush Swallowtail. The Spicebush has a bluish-green colored "swosh" and is missing one orange spot.

Comparison of Black Swallowtail and Spicebush Swallowtail ventral markings


Giant Swallowtail

The upper side of the Giant Swallowtail is black, or dark chocolate brown.
It features a line of large yellow spots directly across the wings, and another line above the trailing edges.
Giant Swallowtail resting in the shade of the woods

The body of the Giant Swallowtail is mostly yellow, and the underside a pale yellow with iridescent light blue patches.
Giant Swallowtail enjoying nectar from a Purple Butterfly Bush

Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly

Shiny black with iridescent blue hind wings with arrowhead-shaped white spots.
Sometimes called the "Blue Swallowtail". Typical wingspan about 3.5".

Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly

Palamedes Swallowtail Butterfly

Both sexes are similarly marked, with rounded brownish black wings rimmed with yellow spots and crossed by another broad V-shaped yellow band.
Black Swallowtail Butterfly

Female Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly with dark coloration

While all male Tiger Swallowtails are yellow,
females can be either yellow, or black due to dimorphic coloration

Female "Black" Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

Red-Spotted Purple

The Red-Spotted Purple is not a swallowtail, but a brush-foot, and is black with blue or blue-screen scaling. At first glance it can be mistaken for a swallowtail, but it has no tails.
Orange or red marks are seen on the tips of the wings.
Red-Spotted Purple Butterfly

Some side-by-side Swallowtail comparisons

Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly (lower left) and Pipevine Swallowtail (upper right)
Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly (lower left) and Pipevine Swallowtail (upper right)

Palamedes Swallowtail Butterfly (lower left) and Spicebush Swallowtail (upper right)
Palamedes Swallowtail Butterfly (lower left) and Spicebush Swallowtail (upper right)

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