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 using their dorsal views.
Dark-Colored Swallowtail Butterfly Comparison Chart
Several members of the Swallowtail family are dark-colored, and have very similar appearances at first glance. These include the Eastern Black Swallowtail, Spicebush Swallowtail, Pipevine Swallowtail, and the dark form of the Tiger Swallowtail. The identification chart below compares the colors and features of these common dark-colored Swallowtail butterflies as seen in ventral views.
Read More About These Swallowtail Species
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 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
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
Female Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly
Male Spicebush Swallowtail (green coloration, on the left) pursues female (blue coloration, on the right)
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.
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.
The body of the Giant Swallowtail is mostly yellow, and the underside a pale yellow with iridescent light blue patches.
Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly
Shiny black with iridescent blue hind wings with arrowhead-shaped white spots.
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.
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
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.
Some side-by-side Swallowtail comparisons
Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly (lower left) and Pipevine Swallowtail (upper right)
Palamedes Swallowtail Butterfly (lower left) and Spicebush Swallowtail (upper right)