Papilionidae: Swallowtails and Parnassians

The Papilionidea family consists of at least 550 species; including the swallowtails and parnassians. Forty species occur in North America.Papilionidea typically have slow wing beats, but they can travel remarkably fast.


These butterflies have smooth, hairless eyes, short antennae with well-developed, elongated clubs, and three fully-developed pairs of walking legs.

Parnassians or Apollos (Parnassiinae)

Clodius Parnassian (parnassian clodius).
Clodius Parnassian (parnassian clodius). Photo by Walter Siegmund

Five species of this subfamily occur in North America. Most species inhabit alpine areas.

Many swallowtail species, especially in the tropics, mimic other butterflies that are distasteful, while others are distasteful and cause birds and other vertebrate predators to regurgitate.


These are medium-sized, tailless butterflies with black wing markings and (usually) red eyespots on the hindwings. The outer borders of the wings are semitransparent due to lack of scales.

Host plant

Dicentra (bleeding heart)Many species of, Sedum (stonecrop).


Western Tiger Swallowtail (Pterourus rutulus) on peach tree
Western Tiger Swallowtail (Pterourus rutulus) on peach tree, Moscow, ID. Photo by T.D. Hatten

Many swallowtails are large and colorful and recognizable even to non-specialists. The name “swallowtail” refers to a tail-like extension on the edge of the hindwing that is found in many, though not all, papilionids. Also,  Swallowtails also have an orange eyespot at the base of each hindwing tail and orange and blue spots on the ventral hindwings.

Host plants

The larvae feed on plants in the following families: Rosaceae, cumin, carrot, coriander, cilantro, dill, caraway, fennel, parsnip, celery, Queen Anne’s Lace and other relatives, Aristolochiaceae, Lauraceae, and Annonaceae .