Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly: How to Identify and Find Them

Tiger Swallowtail in Joe-Pye Weed
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail sipping nectar from Joe-Pye Weed. Photo by Donna L. Long

This butterfly is a big butterfly. The southern Eastern Tiger Swallowtail females rank as the largest butterflies in North America. You can’t miss this one slowly flapping its wings but still moving fast. Swallowtails are one of six butterfly families in North America. I wrote about the Swallowtail Butterfly Family here.

The Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) with its’ yellow and black stripes, looks like a tiger. Notice the long black tails on the lower hind wing.


Where the Tiger Swallowtails Live

The Eastern, Canadian, Western, and Two-tailed Swallowtails all have very similar coloring.

If you live in the western United States, then the big yellow and black butterfly is either a Western (Papilio rurtulus) or a Two-tailed (Papilio multicaudata) Swallowtail.

Here in the eastern U.S., it is an Eastern Tiger (Papilio glaucus) or a Canadian Tiger (Papilio canadensis) Swallowtail.

The Eastern Tiger has a large range and there may be overlap with the two western species in the Great Plains region.

I write about the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail because that is the one I am familiar with.


How the Eastern Tiger Swallowtails Differ from Similar Butterflies

The differences between the Canadian Tiger (Papilio canadensis) and Eastern Tiger (Papilio glaucus) is mainly one of temperature and size. The Canadian can survive colder winter temperatures than the Eastern. The Canadian produce one brood a year; the Eastern 2 to 3. The Canadian is also smaller.

The Eastern and Western Swallowtails are identified by range. The Two-tailed Swallowtail has two black tails on each of its’ hind wings. The Eastern has one tail.

Life Cycle of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail


Adult Life Cycle Stage

The Adult Eastern lives 6 to 14 days. The adults use their long proboscis (tongue) to reach in to flower blossoms and sip the nectar. These big butterflies prefer large, sturdy flowers like Purple Coneflowers (echinacea spp.) Zinnias (Zinnia elegans), and Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus). Male Easterns visit mud puddles drawn by sodium.

Attracting Swallowtail Butterflies: Nectar Plants and Host Plant Plant Lists

You can attract Tiger Swallowtails by providing nectar flowers for adult butterflies to sip (eat) and host plants for adult females to lay their eggs.

North American Butterfly Association Regional Garden Guides http://nababutterfly.com/regional-butterfly-garden-guides/

HOSTS – a Database of the World’s Lepidopteran Hostplants https://www.nhm.ac.uk/our-science/data/hostplants/

New England Aster are a Buffet for Pollinators 


The ranges of the Eastern Tiger and Canadian Tiger Swallowtail overlap and hybrids occur in New England. The Eastern males patrol for females and use alluring pheromones to draw them near.

Flight Style

The wings are flapped in big, slow motions. But because of its’ size, this butterfly can move fast.


Egg Life Cycle Stage

Simple round green eggs with a smooth texture. A single egg is laid on the top tip of a leaf. The egg hatches in 4 to 10 days. In the north the Eastern has 1 to 2 broods; in the southern areas 3 broods. The female uses her ovipositor to lay the single egg on a host plant need a nectar source.


Caterpillar Life Cycle Stage

The caterpillar (larva) looks like a bird dropping when it emerges from the egg. It is brown with a white middle. As the caterpillar grows it turns from brown and white to light green. The front of the caterpillar looks swollen compare to the rear.

At this stage the caterpillar is bird food. Looking like a bird dropping is good protection.

When it prepares to pupate (turn into a chrysalis) the larva turns brown. The larva forms lasts 3-4 weeks. The pupua stage lasts 10-20 days unless it overwinters.


Host Plants for Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly Larva

The larva eat a wide variety of deciduous tree leaves including Tulip Poplar and Sweet Bay Magnolia.

Eastern Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio glaucus) chrysalis attached to wood. TheAlphaWolf [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]
Eastern Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio glaucus) chrysalis attached to wood. TheAlphaWolf [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]

Chrysalis Life Cycle Stage

The Chrysalis is a long cylinder with a “horn” on its’ top end. A silken thread acts like a sling to kee the chrysalis attached to the branch until spring when the adult butterfly will emerge. The chrysalis can be shades of green or brown.


The Eastern Tiger overwinters as a chrysalis a harden protective shell in larval (pupae) form. The chrysalis may be green or shades of brown. Few Swallowtails migrate even though they are large enough to do so.



Quick Facts About the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

Common name: Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Scientific name: Papilio glaucus
Family name: Swallowtails (Papilionidae)
Wingspan: average 4.8 inches
Range: Eastern and mid-western North America
Habitat: nearly anywhere with deciduous trees, the adults eat nectar
Host plant(s): A wide variety of tree leaves. In the north: Aspens: in the South: black cherry, tulip tree, sweet bay, etc.
Adult food: Nectar, puddling
Note: Southern females are the largest butterflies in North America.

Links to other posts and websites

Black Swallowtails: How to Identify Them

Photographing Butterflies 

Observing Butterflies at Home and Far Away

The 6 Butterfly Families and Identifying Butterflies 

Butterflies of Philadelphia: A Checklist 


North American Butterfly Association http://www.naba.org/

Butterflies and Moths of North America: Collecting and Sharing Data about Lepidoptera – link to photos http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/taxonomy

Regional Checklists – for around the North and South America and the Caribbean http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/checklists


    • Hi Ken, You’re more than welcome. Thanks for your kind comment.

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