Western Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

Papilio rutulus

Western Tiger Swallowtails are named for the tails on their hindwings that resemble the long tail feathers of swallows. Papilio is from the Latin word papilio meaning "butterfly."


This butterfly is found in western North America, from eastern British Columbia to eastern North Dakota, south to northern Baja California and southern New Mexico.

Western Tiger Swallowtail

A rare stray to central Nebraska.


The wings on this Swallowtail are black and pale yellow with black tiger-stripes.

The hindwings have tails at their lower tips that resemble the long tail feathers of a swallow; hence, their common name swallowtail.

Also on the hindwing, there are narrow yellow spots along the wing's margin and orange tint on two spots near the end of the inner margin of the wing. Blue spots are found around the outer margin of the hindwing.

The upper side of the hindwing may have a yellow spot on the outer margin. On the forewing, yellow spots form a continuous band along the outer margin of the wing. These yellow spots are bordered in black.

Adult Swallowtail Butterflies have a 2 and 3/4 to 4 inch wingspan.


February in southern California, May in Washington State. Normally in mountain areas adults fly from June through July.

In the lower latitudes and altitudes there may be up to three broods, while in the more northern extents of the range there may be only one.


Western Tiger Swallowtails inhabit woodlands near streams and rivers, wooded residential areas, canyons, parks, and sagelands and mesas with creeks. May be seen at higher elevations.

You can attract them to your gardens as well

Larvae and Hosts:

A deep green, shiny, spherical egg is laid on the underside of a leaf. Eggs are laid singly, but there may be a number of them on the leaf.

The larvae reach about two inches in length, are deep to light green in color, are swollen in the front, and have large yellow eyespots with black and blue pupils.

There is a colored forked organ called the osmeterium located behind the head on the back of the caterpillar. This foul-smelling organ can turn inside out, and, along with the eyespots, may deter predators.

The dark brown chrysalis overwinters slung from a twig or tree trunk. The chrysalis is woodlike.

Western Swallowtail larvae

Western Tiger Swallowtail Females may lay up to four batches of eggs in a season and up to one hundred eggs in total.

The length of time that it takes for the larvae to emerge from the egg depends upon the weather, but generally, in summer, it takes four days. The larvae molt five times - called instars - before they pupate.

After each molt, the caterpillar eats the old skin which is rich in nutrients.

Larvae in your gardens feed upon cottonwood, willow, quaking aspen, alder, maple, sycamore, hoptree, plum and ash.

Nectar Plants:

Adults Western Swallowtails feed on flower nectar from a wide variety of flowers.

By planting a wide variety of nectar rich flowers, you can attract these butterflies to your gardens.

Don't forget a mud-puddle or wet spot as well.

Western Tiger Swallowtail and other Common Butterflies

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Butterflies, Birds, Gardens and More.

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