Old World Swallowtail

Old World Swallowtail

name = Old World Swallowtail

image_width = 250px
regnum = Animalia
phylum = Arthropoda
classis = Insecta
ordo = Lepidoptera
superfamilia = Papilionoidea
familia = Papilionidae
subfamilia = Papilioninae
tribus = Papilionini
genus = Papilio
species = "P. machaon"
binomial = "Papilio machaon"
binomial_authority = Linnaeus, 1758

The Old World Swallowtail ("Papilio machaon"), is a butterfly of the family Papilionidae. The butterfly is also known as the Common Yellow Swallowtail or, simply, The Swallowtail (a common name applied to all members of the family). It is the type species of the genus "Papilio" and occurs throughout the Palearctic region in Europe and Asia; it also occurs across North America, and thus is not restricted to the Old World, despite the common name.


This striking butterfly is yellow with black wing and vein markings and a wingspan of 8 to 10 cm. The hind wings of both sexes have a pair of protruding tails which give the butterfly its common name. Just below each tail is a red eye spot.


This butterfly is present throughout the entire Palearctic region through Russia to China and Japan (including the Himalayas and Taiwan) and across into Alaska, Canada, and the United States. In Asia it is reported as far south as Saudi Arabia, Oman and the high mountains of Yemen.

In Southern Asia it occurs in Pakistan and Kashmir, Northern India (Sikkim, to Assam and Arunachal Pradesh) Nepal, Bhutan and northern Myanmar.

This butterfly is widespread in Europe but in the United Kingdom it is limited to a few areas in the Norfolk Broads of East Anglia. It is the UK's largest resident butterfly. The Monarch "Danaus plexippus" is slightly larger but is only a rare vagrant.


There are 37 subspecies.
* "Papilio machaon gorganus" is strongly migratory in Europe and can be found in almost all habitats.
* In the UK, "P. m. brittanicus" is an endemic subspecies, but occasionally individuals of the continental subspecies "gorganus" breed temporarily on the south coast. Subspecies "brittanicus" differs from the continental subspecies in being more heavily marked in black.
* The Maltese Islands are home to another endemic subspecies, "P. m. melitensis".


* Widespread throughout Eurasia, often common and not threatened as a species.
* It is listed as "Vulnerable" in South Korea and the Austrian Red Data Book, and, also in the Red Data Book of the former Soviet Union.
* The Swallowtail is protected by law in the following countries::* "Papilio machaon machaon" is protected by law in six provinces of Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.:* UK (subsp. "brittanicus" occurs in the UK, but the law covers all subspecies).:* India (subsp. "verityi").


In occupied Kashmir, the Common Yellow Swallowtail, as "Papilio machaon" is called there, inhabits alpine meadows in the Himalayas occurring from 2000 feet in held Kashmir valley to 16,000 feet in the Garhwal Himalayas. In India Himachal Pradesh, it is found over 4000 feet only and in Sikkim over 8000 feet only.

At lower elevations these butterflies fly from March to September. At higher elevations the butterflies are limited by the short summer seasons.

British subspecies "brittanicus" is less mobile than its European continental counterpart and stays within or close by its fenland habitat.


The butterfly has a strong and fast flight but frequently pauses to hover over flowering herbs and sip nectar. It frequents the alpine meadows and hillsides and is fond of 'hilltopping'. At lower elevations it can also be seen visiting gardens.

Life cycle and foodplants

There are usually two to three broods in a year, but in northern areas the species may be single-brooded. In some places like the UK some will pupate and emerge in the same year and others will overwinter as pupae before emerging the following year, a situation known as being partially double brooded.


The caterpillar spends the first part of its life with the appearance of a bird dropping, an effective defence against predators. As the caterpillar grows larger it becomes green with black and orange markings. The caterpillar still has a defence against predators in the form of an organ called an osmeterium which consists of retractable, fleshy projections behind its head that can release a foul smell.

tages of life cycle


* Unlike other swallowtails, this species specialises in using plants of family Umbelliferae, females laying eggs singly.
* In the UK Milk Parsley "Peucedanum palustre" (also known as Marsh Hog's Fennel) is normally the only foodplant used by the caterpillars of the British sub-species and is essential for the survival of populations but plants such as wild angelica "Angelica sylvestris" are sometimes listed in the scientific literature.
* The foodplants of the Swallowtail in Europe, Asia and North America are more varied than in the UK. It uses a wide variety of Umbellifers including wild carrot "Daucus carota", wild angelica "Angelica sylvestris", fennel "Foeniculum vulgare" and hogweeds "Heracleum spp."
* In the Maltese Islands, the caterpillar feeds on plants such as rue "Ruta chalepensis" and fennel "Foeniculum vulgare".




Adult butterflies

ee also

*List of butterflies of India
*List of butterflies of India (Papilionidae)
*Papilio saharae saharae Oberthür, 1879.

References and external links

* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/wildfacts/factfiles/410.shtml BBC Swallowtail page]
*Jim Asher et al "The Millennium Atlas of Butterflies of Britain and Ireland" Oxford University Press

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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