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common name: spicebush swallowtail
scientific name: Papilio troilus Linnaeus (Insecta: Lepidoptera: Papilionidae)

Introduction - Distribution - Description - Life Cycle - Selected References

Introduction (Back to Top)

The spicebush swallowtail butterfly is a large, dark swallowtail. It is one of our most beautiful and interesting swallowtails. All developmental stages are great examples of adaptive coloration.

Adult female spicebush swallowtail, Papilio troilus Linnaeus.

Figure 1. Adult female spicebush swallowtail, Papilio troilus Linnaeus. Photograph by Jerry F. Butler, Entomology and Nematology Department, University of Florida.

Distribution (Back to Top)

The spicebush swallowtail is found throughout the eastern half of the United States from southern Canada south to southern Florida except the Miami area and Keys and west to Texas. It is less common farther west from the Mississippi River. Two subspecies are recognized: Papilio troilus troilus, which is distributed throughout the range, and Papilio troilus ilioneus, which is restricted to the southern coastal plain including the Florida peninsula.

Description (Back to Top)

The wingspread range is 4.1 to 5.6 cm. The upper surface of the fore wings is black with a narrow marginal row and a broader submarginal row of light yellow row spots. The upper surfaces of the hind wings also have the rows of spots, but they are light green in color. The median areas of the hind wings are dusted with blue in females and blue-green to green in males.

Adult male spicebush swallowtail, Papilio troilus Linnaeus.

Figure 2. Adult male spicebush swallowtail, Papilio troilus Linnaeus. Photograph by Jerry F. Butler, Entomology and Nematology Department, University of Florida.

Eggs are greenish-white. Young larvae are bird-dropping mimics. Last instar 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 thicker than those on larvae of the palamedes swallowtail, Papilio palamedes). One dot on each side is beneath the lateral line. There is a pair of large tan false eyespots lined with black on the rear of the thorax. The eyespots have a large black center with a white "false reflection". Larvae also have a smaller pair of tan spots at the front of the abdomen. Pupae have two anterior "horns" and may be brown or green.

Egg of the spicebush swallowtail, Papilio troilus Linnaeus.

Figure 3. Egg of the spicebush swallowtail, Papilio troilus Linnaeus. Photograph by Jerry F. Butler, Entomology and Nematology Department, University of Florida.

Young larva of spicebush swallowtail, Papilio troilus Linnaeus.

Figure 4. Young larva of spicebush swallowtail, Papilio troilus Linnaeus. Photograph by Jerry F. Butler, Entomology and Nematology Department, University of Florida.

Mature larva of spicebush swallowtail, Papilio troilus Linnaeus.

Figure 5. Mature larva of spicebush swallowtail, Papilio troilus Linnaeus. Photograph by Jerry F. Butler, Entomology and Nematology Department, University of Florida.

Green pupa of spicebush swallowtail, Papilio troilus Linnaeus.

Figure 6. Green pupa of spicebush swallowtail, Papilio troilus Linnaeus. Photograph by Jerry F. Butler, Entomology and Nematology Department, University of Florida.

Brown pupa of spicebush swallowtail, Papilio troilus Linnaeus.

Figure 7. Brown pupa of spicebush swallowtail, Papilio troilus Linnaeus. Photograph by Jerry F. Butler, Entomology and Nematology Department, University of Florida.

Life Cycle (Back to Top)

There are many flights in Florida with peaks in late spring and early fall in central Florida. The host plants are species of Lauraceae. The most commonly used hosts are sassafras, Sassafras albidum (Nutt.) Nees; spicebush, Lindera benzoin (L.) Blume; camphortree, Cinnamomum camphora (L.) J. Presl, and red bay, Persea borbonia (L.) Spreng. In the experience of the authors, red bay is not used as frequently as the other species. The foliage of all of these plants is pleasingly aromatic when crushed -- a characteristic that aids in differentiating them from similar plants in other families.

Sassafras, Sassafras albidum (Nutt.)

Figure 8. Sassafras, Sassafras albidum (Nutt.) Photograph by Donald W. Hall, Entomology and Nematology Department, University of Florida. University of Florida.

Spicebush, Lindera benzoin (L.) Blume.

Figure 9. Spicebush, Lindera benzoin (L.) Blume. Photograph by Donald W. Hall, Entomology and Nematology Department, University of Florida. University of Florida.

Camphortree, Cinnamomum camphora (L.)

Figure 10. Camphortree, Cinnamomum camphora (L.) J. Presl. Photograph by Donald W. Hall, Entomology and Nematology Department, University of Florida. University of Florida.

Red bay, Persea borbonia (L.) Spreng.

Figure 11. Red bay, Persea borbonia (L.) Spreng. Photograph by Donald W. Hall, Entomology and Nematology Department, University of Florida. University of Florida.

Eggs are laid singly on the undersides of leaves of the host plants. Young trees are usually selected and eggs are typically laid from two to five meters above the ground. First instar larvae bend a leaf edge over and silk it down to make a leaf next. Older larvae spin a silk mat on a leaf that contracts to curl the two lateral leaf edges upward and together to form a leaf nest. Larvae usually hide in the leaf nest during the daytime and to molt when birds and other predators are unlikely to see them. They come out to feed at night. Young larvae are bird-dropping mimics, and mature larvae with their swollen thorax and eyespots are believed to mimic either green snakes or tree frogs. Larvae pupate on slender stems among vegetation, and pupae of the late summer or fall generation hibernate. Pupae may be either green or brown during the summer, but over-wintering pupae are brown. Both are leaf mimics. Adults are believed to be Batesian (palatable) mimics of the poisonous blue swallowtail.

Selected References (Back to Top)