Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly – Life Cycle

Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus)
Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus)

The adult Spicebush Swallowtail is a relatively long-lived butterfly. It is very common in the Philadelphia area. It is so large that it hard to miss.

This species courts and mates in the afternoon. They mate in flight with the male hovering over the female.

The eggs are plain and spherical and can be found on the species’ host plants. Host plants are the plants that the larva is able to digest. Each species of butterfly has specific plants that it can eat. These are almost exclusively native plants. Why should we plant native plants in our gardens?

Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly - early instar
Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly – early instar

The young larvae resembles a bird dropping. It feeds at night and lives in a folded-over leaf shelter.

The mature caterpillar continues to feed at night and rest during the day.

The mature caterpillar has “snake head” eyespots. It lives in a silk-covered leaf tube. It will turn yellow before pupating. Two most common host plants are Spicebush and Sassafras.

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)
Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)

The Spicebush blooms in early spring. The leaves which appear later feed Spicebush caterpillars. The Caterpillars fare better eating Spicebush leaves than Sassafras leaves.

Sassafras tree
Sassafras tree
Spicebush Swallowtail chrysalis
Spicebush Swallowtail chrysalis

Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly Facts

Family: Papilionidae (Parnassians and Swallowtails) – Spicebush is one of the 12 Swallowtail species on the East Coast.

Range: Eastern United States. The species is declining in the far South. It is gone from the Florida Keys.Wingspan: 3 1/2 – 4 1/2 inches across (89 – 114 mm)

Hostplant: Primarily Spicebush (lindera benzoin) but also Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) and bays. The larvae fare better on Spicebush than on Sassafras.

Habitat: Generalist – woods, woodland edges, roadsides, fields, swamps and parks.

Flight: low-flying, 3 – 9 feet above the ground with fairly rapid wing beats. The adults are strong fliers which can fly across sizable bodies of water.

Nectar: Adults have long proboscises which enable the butterfly to sip nectar from deep blossoms.

Eggs: Generally plain and spherical

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