Alabama Butterfly Atlas

Butterfly: Wingspan: 2 5/8 to 3 1/2 inches (6.7-8.9 cm). Black Swallowtails are large black butterflies with predominant tails. Males have a band of bright yellow spots that crosses the outer part of each upperside wing as well as a row of yellow dots and dashes that border those wings. Females may lack the heavy yellow band or display it only faintly.  Males show some blue on the topside hindwing but females have a wide swath of blue. The underside of both sexes is black with 2 rows of yellow-orange spots across both wings.

ID Tip: Black Swallowtails are often misidentified and confused with other large, dark swallowtails.  Look for the dark body with a double row of creamy yellow dots.  On both upper and under wing surfaces, look for an orange-red eyespot with a center black “pupil.” These are located at corner of the hindwings.

Egg: The round, yellow-green eggs are deposited singly, often on tip of host plant leaf.

Caterpillar: Young caterpillars resemble bird droppings: dark brown with white “saddle.”  Older larvae are bright green with black dashes and yellow dots that form bands on each body segment. This coloration is cryptic: it camouflages them with their environment. However, caterpillar color is variable and some be predominantly black. Osmeteria are yellow-orange. Black Swallowtail caterpillars are sometimes called “Parsley worms.”

Chrysalis: Mottled brown or gray; or green with yellow highlights.  Color depends on season and surface texture. The short day lengths (photoperiods) of fall produce brown pupae.  The chrysalis is the overwintering stage.

Black Swallowtails are common, widespread, but often overlooked residents of Alabama's natural as well as suburban areas.  

Many of Black Swallowtail's native host plants are extremely poisonous, but its caterpillars are able to detoxify the chemicals.  In very young larvae, the white "saddle" contains uric acid that may function to help protect the caterpillar from the phytochemicals it ingests.  Black Swallowtails are mildly distasteful to predators because of these toxic host plant chemicals.  In addition to their own slight toxicity, females strongly resemble Pipevine Swallowtails and are considered part of the Pipevine Swallowtail mimicry ring.

Males perch on tall grasses, shrubs, or small trees where they have a clear view of the surrounding area.  From those vantage points, they periodically patrol for females.


Distribution and Abundance

A dot on the county map indicates that there is at least one documented record of the species within that county. In some cases, a species may be common throughout the county, in others it may be found in only a specific habitat. The High Count information shows the highest numbers recorded for this species as well as when and where they occurred.

The sightings bar graphs depict the timing of flight(s) within each of three geographic regions. Place your cursor on a bar within the graph to see the number of individuals recorded during that period.

The abundance calendar displays the total number of individuals recorded within each week of the month. Both the graphs and the calendar are on based data collection that began in 2000.

The records analyzed here are only a beginning. As more data is collected, these maps and graphs will paint a more accurate picture of distribution and abundance in Alabama. Submit your sightings to

Sightings in the following counties: Autauga, Baldwin, Bibb, Bullock, Calhoun, Choctaw, Clay, Cleburne, Colbert, Cullman, Dale, Dallas, Elmore, Escambia, Etowah, Geneva, Hale, Jackson, Jefferson, Lawrence, Limestone, Lowndes, Macon, Madison, Marengo, Marshall, Mobile, Monroe, Morgan, Perry, Pickens, Randolph, Shelby, Sumter, Talladega, Tuscaloosa, Walker

  • Map Symbol for Recent Sightings Sightings in the past 5 years
  • Map Symbol for Semi-Recent Sightings Sightings in the past 5 - 10 years
  • Map Symbol for Old Sightings Sightings more than 10 years ago

High count(s):

  • 24 - Jefferson - 9/2/2018
  • 11 - Baldwin - 6/22/2016
  • 10 - Tuscaloosa - 10/2/2018
County Distribution Map

View county names by moving the mouse over a county or view a map with county names

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
1 7 6 6 14 19 23 10 14 9 3 20 2 8 33 4 18 11 34 29 32 22 10 9 27 28 31 42 16 15 3 11 2


Various open areas including weedy fields, pastures, roadsides, woodland edges, marshes, and gardens. Seldom seen in forests.

Black Swallowtail
Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)
© Sara Bright

Host and Nectar Plants

Black Swallowtails use a wide variety of plants in the Carrot/Parsley family as their caterpillar hosts. A member of the Citrus family, Rue, is also chosen. 

In addition to the plants highlighted in blue below, these common herbs have also been documented as Black Swallowtail hosts in Alabama:

  • Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
  • Dill (Anethum graveolens)
  • Bronze Fennel (Foeniculm vulgare)
  • Florence Fennel (Foeniculm vulgare azoricum)
  • Lovage (Levisticum officinale)
  • Rue (Ruta graveolens).


For more information about the documented host plants and/or nectar plants, please visit the Alabama Plant Atlas using the following links:

Landscaping Ideas

Black Swallowtails are common visitors to gardens that include their host herbs and vegetables.  Surprisingly, caterpillars are more frequently seen than butterflies!  Plant enough host plants to feed your family and your swallowtails. Consider adding native carrot family members to your landscape: Common Golden Alexanders are wonderful landscape plants and provide early spring host opportunities.

Swallowtails are avid nectarers and are especially attracted to native wildflowers such as milkweeds (Asclepias spp.), Joe Pye Weeds (Eutrochium spp.), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), blazing stars (Liatris spp.), and phloxes (Phlox spp.).