Swallowtail - Papilio machaon

Phylum: Arthropoda - Class: Insecta - Order: Lepidoptera - Family: Papilionidae

Swallowtail butterfly

In the wild in Britain this lovely butterfly is a very rare sight, confined to parts of the fens of Norfolk. In southern England, where occasionally specimens stray from northern France, the preferred habitat of this large, colourful butterfly is damp wildflower meadows. Elsewhere in Europe it frequents woodland edges and gardens, too.

The Swallowtail is a large butterfly; its wingspan is typically between 9 and 10cm.

Swallowtail butterfly


With climate change this once rare visitor to Britain may eventually be seen rather more often, but at present it is still unusual to see a Swallowtail anywhere except for the occasional migrant in the south-east of England.

Swallowtails are a very common sight on mainland Europe and the Far East. The specimen shown above was photographed in the Algarve near Aljezur, on the west coast just north of Cape St Vincent.

The Swallowtail butterfly seen on the left was taking nectar from the flowers of an almond tree. (Swallowtails seem to be particularly fond of almond blossom). It was photographed in Cyprus by Simon Harding and is shown here with his kind permission.


Larva of the Swallowtail  butterfly

In most countries the Swallowtail produces two broods, the first in May and early June and the second in August. Butterflies that emerge in early summer lay their brown eggs singly on the upper leaves of Hog's Fennel, also known as Milk Parsley (Peucidanum palustre). Caterpillars emerge after about a week; they are black with white band.

By July, when the first-brood caterpillars are fully grown and ready to pupate, they have turned bright green and are ornamented with narrow black bands and orange spots. The larva shown here was photographed at Benagil, on the Algarve in southern Portugal. (Picture: Rob Petley-Jones)

The chrysalis, which may be either pain green or pale brown with a darker brown stripe, is attached to the stem of a reed. In this form the insect hibernates until the following year.

Studying butterflies and moths...

Matching the Hatch

If you found this information helpful,we are sure you would also find the new 2017 edition of our bestselling book Matching the Hatch by Pat O'Reilly very useful. Get an author-signed copy here...

Other nature books from First Nature...