Swallowtail Butterfly ID: Help Needed

This morning Judy was taking pictures in the garden and she saw a female swallowtail butterfly nectaring on the pansies. No, I haven’t yet replaced the pansies.

Female swallowtail butterfly nectaring on pansy.
Female swallowtail butterfly nectaring on pansy.

It’s hard to tell the difference between a female eastern tiger swallowtail and a female spicebush swallowtail. Can anyone help with this?

2014-06-05 11.04.18 swallowtail butterfly

The eastern tiger swallowtails are far more common, but I would dearly love to believe that this is a spicebush swallowtail. That’s because I planted several spicebush (Lindera benzoin) years ago. Spicebush are a host plant for spicebush swallowtails, and I very much wanted to attract these butterflies to the garden.

This gives you a little bit of a view of the underwing.
This gives you a little bit of a view of the underwing.

Actually, this critter looks like someone has taken a bite or two out of its wing. Carry on, Mrs. Swallowtail! I hope to see your caterpillars in the not too distant future.

42 Comments on “Swallowtail Butterfly ID: Help Needed

  1. What great photos! After doing a little research, my vote would have to be the eastern tiger swallowtail 😦 I’m definitely not a butterfly expert so can be overruled, but looking at identifying marks leads me to the tiger. They also like spicebushes, so either way, you’ve created a successful butterfly habitat. Looking forward to hearing what others think.

    • The distinctions between the butterflies are pretty subtle, there doesn’t seem to be any consensus among those with opinions.

  2. Sorry I can’t help, but it is beautiful whichever it is. Attracting any type of butterfly is a good feeling, but I understand your disappointment if it isn’t the spicebush one!

  3. Great photos Jason, but sorry I can’t help either, we have swallowtails in the garden but not these dark ones, they’re really beautiful. Well done for attracting them which ever they are.

    • You should see the male easter tiger swallowtail – yellow and black stripes, makes me think more of a zebra than a tiger, but then there is also a zebra swallowtail, but not in these parts.

  4. How nice to have butterflies fluttering around the garden! According to my butterfly book, this is a spicebush swallowtail. Enjoy 🙂

    • That sounds frustrating! We have seen a few – one monarch, a couple of red admirals, one or two unidentified, some skippers, and this swallowtail. Not a lot, but better than nothing.

  5. I tried looking these up but can’t tell for certain. I haven’t seen many butterflies here this year.

  6. We do not have Swallowtails in the UK, they are quite beautiful. Keep the pansies! Great food for butterflies and nicer than summer bedding.

    • The pansies are all in containers, they will get very leggy soon and will stop blooming. In the back I will gradually replace them, mostly with New Guinea impatiens and Calladium.

  7. Hi Jason, from my butterfly books I would say it is the eastern swallowtail. The eastern has orange spots near the bottom of the lower wings. The spicebush swallowtail has orange spots almost between the upper and lower wings. There are other differences but that is the most obvious. Sorry to disappoint.

    • Oh, well. Like they say, and eastern tiger swallowtail is better than no swallowtail at all. Not sure who “they” are, though, but I’m sure they say this.

  8. Beautiful photographs and an interesting discussion. Sorry I am not a butterfly expert but I will be paying even more attention to these girls now.

  9. Great captures. Butterflies never stand still for photos for me. haha I can’t help you with the ID. My skills are not up to the task but I agree with Stephi: whichever butterfly it is you have created habitat.

    My first experience with swallowtail butterflies after I moved here was kind fo alarming. I was looking at a lime tree and noticed what I -thought- was a big mess of bird poop. AND THEN IT MOVED. Honestly, I ran to the computer to try to identify what kind of creature looks like THAT. It was of course a swallowtail caterpillar.

      • Giant swallowtail caterpillars indeed look like a pile of poop. But the adults are much wider and have large brown bands on them that Eastern Tigers don’t have.

  10. Oh wow….I can’t help with the identification but can wax lyrical about such a stunning creature….simply heavenly.xxx

    • Not sure, but I don’t think so. The caterpillars eat the leaves,and spicebush leafs out well after the flowers bloom.

  11. Here’s what makes it even harder: I’ve seen pics of this same butterfly on reputable sites calling it a ‘Dark Form Swallowtail’. I’ve also read that only certain genders are dark while the opposite gender is yellow. Both Eastern Tiger and Spicebush swallowtails are native to this area and I see them frequently in my garden. I no longer know what to call them or how to tell them apart with out a microscope so I’ve opted for the basic moniker of just “swallowtails”. They don’t seem offended.

  12. I left a couple of links on Facebook when someone asked if I could help. Did you find them?

  13. I’m no expert either, but aren’t the spots on the upper wings of the spicebush more white? This one looks like a black swallowtail to me because it has the double rows of dots on the upper wings. Check out this link, which has excellent photos: http://wisconsinbutterflies.org/butterfly/subfamily/7-swallowtails. In any case, it’s gorgeous. I’ve seen several monarchs in the yard, but they’ve been in a hurry. A few swallowtails, too. And mourning cloaks earlier in the spring. They’re lovely to watch!

    • So far I’ve seen one monarch, a couple of red admirals, some unidentified, and some skippers. Yes, they are lovely to watch – hoping to see more as the summer warms.

  14. Wow seems like the jury is still out. Nice to see any butterflies…I found a tiger swallowtail with similar wing damage…only butterfly I have seen.

      • You are already lucky, because you have spice bush probably available in your area..All you need is the host plant ( I think it’s is fennel and celery, correct me if I’m wrong). Try plant it and they will definitely come to you…you already have the nectar plants a blooming:-).here in Hawaii, we have Papilio xuthus or Chinese swallowtail..I used to raise them in netted boxes, but they are hard to come by now.i have endless supply of Monarch, Gulf fritillaries, and cabbage whites:-).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: