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A Comprehensive Guide to the Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus)

Introduction to the Spicebush Swallowtail

The Spicebush Swallowtail is found in the mid-western and eastern United States and the very southern parts of Canada. The host plants for this species are sassafras (Sassafras albidum) and spicebush (Lindera benzoin). The Spicebush Swallowtail flies from April to October and 2-3 has broods in a year.

Taxonomy and Naming of the Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus)

Spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus) on vegetation.
Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus) — Kaldari, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Taxonomy

The Spicebush Swallowtail was named and described by Carl von Linnaeus in 1758. This butterfly is a member of the Swallowtail Family (Papilionidae) and the subfamily Papilinoninae.

Meaning the Scientific and Common Names

Scientific Name

The genus name, Papilio, is Latin for butterfly. The species, troilus, derives from Greek mythology and is the name of a Trojan Prince.

Common and Alternative Names

The common name of this butterfly comes from one of the host plants. Another common name is the green-clouded swallowtail.

Physical Description of the Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus)

Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio triolus) on lavender flower.
Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus) — ALAN SCHMIERER, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Color: This swallowtail has a black upperside with yellow spots on the forewings. The males have blue-green hindwings and the female have blue hind-wings.
  • Wingspan: 3.5 to 4.5 inches
  • Active Flying Time: This swallowtail can be found from spring to autumn.

Lifecycle of this Butterfly

Green caterpillar of spicebush swallowtail (Paplio troilus) on a twig.
Caterpillar of Spicebush Swallowtail — NCBioTeacher, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Life Stages

  • Eggs: The eggs are pale green to greenish-white and are laid near or on the host plant.
  • Larvae (Caterpillar): The caterpillars are green with a dark green dorsal stripe and tan head. When they emerge they make a nest of curled grass and hibernate till spring.
  • Chrysalis: The chrysalis is light beige and tinged with green. The butterflies emerge in the spring and/or summer.
  • Adult: The adults overwinter or fly south to Mexico or the southern United States from more northern areas (Wisconsin Pollinators). This butterfly is considered to be uncommon in most places and when seen not very many are present.

Habitat

Meadow habitat in Europe.
Meadow Habitat — Leonhard Lenz, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This butterfly lives in wooded areas, edges, and open areas such as fields, right-ways, meadows, and gardens.

Range of the Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus) in the United States and Canada

Range map Spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus) in the United States and Canada.
Range map Spicebush swallowtail (Papilio troilus) in the United States and Canada.

This swallowtail flies in the mid-western and eastern United States and in the province of Ontario in Canada.

Host Plants

Red fruit of spicebush with yellow foliage.
Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) — Dan Keck from Ohio, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The caterpillars of this swallowtail feed, as the name would suggest, on spicebush (Lindera benzoin). They also will eat sassafras (Sassafras albidum) and in the south, bays (Persea spp.).

Nectar Plants

Sweet joe-pye-weed (Eutrochium maculatum) in a garden.
Spotted Joe-Pye-Weed (Eutrochium maculatum) — Author Image

The adults of spicebush swallowtail nectar on joe-pye-weed (Eupatorium spp.), jewelweed (Impatiens spp.), and honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.). A lot of other species are enjoyed as well.

What other Butterflies look similar to this one?

This swallowtail looks similar to the Pipevine Swallowtail (Battus philenor), which has a foul taste. Similar to the Monarch and the Viceroy Butterflies, this species takes advantage of another species which has a foul taste and therefore reduces predation. The dark forms of the females of the Black Swallowtail and the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail can also look this species. However, the Spicebush Swallowtail can be identified by a row of orange spots on the hind-wing (Bouseman and Sternburg 2001).

References

  • Bouseman, John K. and James G. Sternburg. 2001. Field Guide to the Butterflies of Illinois. (Champaign, Il: Illinois Natural History Survey. Manual 9.
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Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe is a professional ecologist and botanist who has worked as the State Ecologist of Delaware and as an ecologist for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. He is also a former Past-President of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science. He currently is an innkeeper at McMullen House Bed & Breakfast LLC and a web designer and owner for Silphium Design LLC.

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