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common name: palamedes swallowtail, laurel swallowtail
scientific name: Papilio palamedes (Drury) (Insecta: Lepidoptera: Papilionidae)

Introduction - Distribution - Description - Life Cycle - Selected References

Introduction (Back to Top)

The palamedes swallowtail is a large, dark swallowtail butterfly marked with yellow spots and bands. It is particularly common in and near swampy woods.

Adult palamedes swallowtail, Papilio palamedes (Drury).

Figure 1. Adult palamedes swallowtail, Papilio palamedes (Drury). Photograph by Jerry F. Butler, Entomology and Nematology Department, University of Florida.

Distribution (Back to Top)

The palamedes swallowtail is found in the coastal plains of the southeastern states from Virginia to Louisiana. Strays have been found in Cuba and as far north as Nebraska and New York.

Description (Back to Top)

The wingspread range is 4.8 to 6.3 cm. The upper surface of the wings is black with yellow markings. The front wing has a double row of yellow spots on the distal one third. The hind wing has a marginal row of yellow spots and a submarginal yellow band. The tails may have a yellow stripe down the middle.

Eggs are pale yellow-green. Older larvae are green with a pale yellow lateral line edged beneath with a fine black line. The underside of the larva is pinkish-brown. Abdominal segments have a transverse band of six blue dots with each dot ringed by a fine black line (much thinner than those on larvae of the spicebush swallowtail, Papilio troilus). One dot on each side is beneath the lateral line. There are a pair of large tan false eyespots lined with black on the rear of the thorax. The eyespots have a large black center and a white "false reflection" above. Larvae also have a smaller pair of tan spots at the front of the abdomen. Pupae are green with a white lateral line edged above with a purple-brown line. Pupae have two short horns.

Full grown larva of palamedes swallowtail, Papilio palamedes (Drury).

Figure 2. Full grown larva of palamedes swallowtail, Papilio palamedes (Drury). Photograph by Jerry F. Butler, Entomology and Nematology Department, University of Florida.

Pupa of palamedes swallowtail, Papilio palamedes (Drury).

Figure 3. Pupa of palamedes swallowtail, Papilio palamedes (Drury). Photograph by Jerry F. Butler, Entomology and Nematology Department, University of Florida.

Life Cycle (Back to Top)

There are several flights in Virginia (May-September) and many flights in Florida from March to December. The host plants are primarily species of Persea (Lauraceae) (particularly redbay, Persea borbonia (L.) and swampbay, Persea palustris (Raf.) Sarg.). Several other Lauraceae are listed as occasional hosts including Sassafras albidum (Nutt.) Nees. Sweetbay, Magnolia virginiana L., is also listed as a host, but in laboratory studies, larvae refused to eat it.

Redbay, Persea borbonia (L.).

Figure 4. Redbay, Persea borbonia (L.). Photograph by Donald W. Hall, Entomology and Nematology Department, University of Florida.

Eggs are laid singly on host plants and larvae eat foliage. Larvae spin a silk mat on a leaf which contracts to curl the leaf upward. They rest on the silk mat. Pupae hibernate. Males patrol wooded areas in search of females. Adults feed on nectar from a variety of flowers with a particular fondness for thistles. Adults also sip water and minerals at mud.

Selected References (Back to Top)