How to Attract Black Swallowtail Butterflies: Expert Tips and Tricks

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Attracting black swallowtail butterflies to your garden can be a delightful experience, as these beautiful creatures add life and color to any outdoor space.

To successfully bring these butterflies to your garden, it’s essential to provide them with the right environment and resources.

One of the key factors in creating a butterfly-friendly garden is including both adult nectar plants and caterpillar host plants.

By planting a variety of these plants, you can not only attract black swallowtails but also support their life cycle, giving them a place to lay their eggs and feed their young.

How to Attract Black Swallowtail Butterflies
Female Black Swallowtail

A few common vegetables, such as parsley and dill, can serve as caterpillar host plants; consider planting extra to ensure there’s enough for both you and the butterflies.

Additionally, make sure your garden is situated in a sunny and sheltered area, as butterflies need sun to warm their bodies for flight.

Providing a comfortable area that is shielded from strong winds can help the butterflies feel more at home in your garden, ultimately drawing more black swallowtails to your outdoor space.

Understanding Black Swallowtail Butterflies

Life Cycle

Black swallowtail butterflies (Papilio polyxenes) belong to the swallowtail species and have an interesting life cycle, consisting of four stages:

  1. Egg
  2. Caterpillar (or larvae)
  3. Chrysalis (or pupa)
  4. Adult butterfly

These stages ensure their delicate beauty is preserved over time.

Adult

Habitat and Range

Black swallowtails can be found in a variety of habitats, such as:

  • Fields
  • Meadows
  • Wetlands
  • Prairies
  • Sunny backyards

These butterflies are commonly found throughout North America, with the eastern black swallowtail being a widespread subspecies.

Physical Features

Key physical features of the black swallowtail butterfly include:

  • Wingspan: Females tend to be larger than males, with a wingspan ranging from 3¼ to 4¼ inches.
  • Coloration: Black with yellow, blue, orange, and red accents on their wings. Males display more noticeable yellow, while blues are more pronounced in females.
  • Caterpillar: The black swallowtail caterpillar transforms throughout its development, eventually displaying segments with bands of bright colors.

The black swallowtail’s physical features add to its distinctive appearance among other swallowtail species.

Comparing the black swallowtail to the similar pipevine swallowtail, both species share dark forewings, but the black swallowtail has more diverse coloring on its hindwings.

How to Attract Black Swallowtail Butterflies: Creating a Butterfly-Friendly Garden

Ideal Location

To attract black swallowtail butterflies, choose a garden site that offers:

  • Full sun: Butterflies need sun to warm their bodies for flight. Most plants they are attracted to also need full sun1.
  • Shelter: A location sheltered from harsh winds provides a safe environment for butterflies.

Nectar Plants

Adult black swallowtails feed on nectar from a variety of flowers, so a diverse selection of nectar plants is essential2. Some popular choices include:

  • Milkweed
  • Butterfly bush
  • Coneflower
  • Zinnia

Host Plants

Host plants provide a place for black swallowtails to lay eggs and caterpillars to feed on. For example:

  • Parsley
  • Dill
  • Fennel

Adding an herb garden can provide a perfect habitat for these caterpillars.

Female Black Swallowtails

Water Sources and Minerals

Butterflies also need water and minerals to survive. Provide:

  • Flat stones: For basking and absorbing minerals.
  • Wet sand: A small dish of wet sand is an easy way to create a butterfly puddling spot4.

Safe Environment

Creating a safe environment means minimizing threats to butterflies:

  • Avoid insecticides: Use targeted or organic pest control methods instead of broad-spectrum pesticides5.
  • Native plants: Use native plants suited to your region’s USDA Plant Hardiness Zone to support the local butterfly population.

By following these guidelines, your garden can be an inviting and supportive habitat for black swallowtail butterflies.

Growing Specific Plants for Black Swallowtails

Parsley

Parsley is a popular host plant for black swallowtail caterpillars. Grow Petroselinum crispum in your garden to attract these butterflies.

Parsley is easy to grow, germinates within a few weeks, and can tolerate light frost.

Fennel

Fennel is another host plant that attracts black swallowtails. It provides a food source for the caterpillars and its yellow flowers are attractive to adult butterflies.

To grow fennel, plant seeds after the last frost date, give it plenty of sunlight, and water it regularly.

Dill

Dill is a common herb that can also attract black swallowtails. The caterpillars love to feed on the leaves while the adult butterflies are attracted to its flowers.

Grow dill by planting seeds in well-draining soil and providing plenty of sunlight.

Queen Anne’s Lace

Queen Anne’s Lace is a wildflower that attracts black swallowtail females to lay their eggs.

This plant hosts the caterpillars and provides a plentiful food source. Plant seeds in early spring and provide good sunlight for optimal growth.

Female Black Swallowtail Butterfly

Carrots

Carrots, similar to Queen Anne’s Lace, attract female black swallowtails to lay eggs. The caterpillars can feed on the foliage of the growing carrot plants.

Rue

Rue is an attractive host plant for both adult butterflies and caterpillars.

Although it has a bitter taste, the caterpillars feed on the leaves, and adult butterflies are attracted to the yellow flowers.

Plant rue in well-draining soil, water moderately, and provide ample sunlight.

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar

Zinnias

Zinnias aren’t host plants for black swallowtails, but their flowers attract adult butterflies.

These colorful flowers provide nectar, which is a food source for the butterflies. Plant zinnias in a sunny location with well-draining soil for best results.

Herbs

Many herbs are great for attracting black swallowtail butterflies. Some examples include:

  • Celery
  • Caraway
  • Verbena
  • Lantana
  • Bee balm
  • Coneflowers

Plant these herbs along with the other host plants mentioned above to create a diverse and welcoming habitat for black swallowtails in your garden.

Attracting and Protecting Black Swallowtail Caterpillars

Identifying Caterpillar Stages

Black Swallowtail caterpillars go through several stages, known as instars, in their transformation. As they progress, their appearance changes:

  • 1st instar: Small, black, and spiny
  • 2nd to 4th instars: Green with black bands and yellow spots
  • 5th (final) instar: Bright green with yellow and blue markings

Become familiar with these stages to better identify Black Swallowtail caterpillars in your garden.

Black Swallowtail Caterpillar

Providing Shelter and Hiding Spots

Caterpillars need safe places to hide. Provide a mix of:

  • Herbs: Fennel, dill, and parsley1
  • Plants with dense foliage: Shrubs, tall grasses, or perennials

Plants with edible foliage that caterpillars can feed on provide both protection and nourishment.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Black Swallowtail butterfly is a captivating addition to any garden, bringing both beauty and ecological balance.

To attract and support these butterflies, gardeners should focus on providing a mix of nectar and host plants, such as parsley, dill, and fennel.

Recognizing the various stages of the butterfly’s life cycle, from egg to adult, is crucial for their protection.

By creating a sunlit, sheltered environment and incorporating diverse plants, gardeners can ensure a thriving habitat for Black Swallowtails, contributing to the preservation of this remarkable species.

Footnotes

  1. https://extension.illinois.edu/blogs/good-growing/2021-03-04-how-create-butterfly-habitat-your-garden 2

  2. https://hort.extension.wisc.edu/articles/create-a-butterfly-garden/

  3. https://extension.psu.edu/gardening-for-butterflies

  4. https://extension.umn.edu/landscape-design/creating-butterfly-garden

  5. https://hort.extension.wisc.edu/articles/black-swallowtail-papilio-polyxenes/

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Mating Pennsylvania Leatherwings share thistle with Black Swallowtail

Name that Beetle
I just discovered your wonderful website while I was trying to identify the mating beetles sharing the thistle with a Black Swallowtail. The picture was taken last summer just out side Madison WI. Are these a Pennsylvania leather-wings?
Bill Ottinger

Hi Bill,
You are absolutely correct. The mating Pennsylvania Leatherwings are common beetles found on roadside flowers, especially goldenrod.

Letter 2 – Black Swallowtail Caterpillar: Parsley Eater

Black Swallowtail Caterpillars
I found these critters on your site, thanks! Your response to another reader suggested you might need another photo, so here’s a close-up of my garden pests.
Lisa

Hi Lisa,
Thanks for the image. They really don’t eat that much parsley and you will have a lovely butterfly to follow.

Letter 3 – Freshly Eclosed Pair of Black Swallowtails

Subject: Black Swallowtails – male and female
Location: Naperville, IL
September 16, 2013 8:42 am
Hi Daniel~
I just had to send these to you. We’ve been raising Black Swallowtails this summer, and two beautiful butterflies eclosed yesterday, one male and one female. Unfortunately, it was raining all day, and I keep the butterflies overnight in a net (with fresh flowers, but they don’t typically feed on day 1), rather than release them in the rain.

This morning, it was a bit chilly, but bright and sunny, so I placed them first on a Norfolk pine in the shade, where they remained very cooperative during our photo shoot. Then I moved them to a crabapple tree in the sun, where they stayed for five minutes, warming up before flying off.
Have a beautiful week!
Signature: Dori Eldridge

Pair of Black Swallowtails (male on left)
Pair of Black Swallowtails (male on left)

Hi Dori,
It is so wonderful having this side by side comparison of a male and female Black Swallowtail.  The male has more yellow spots while the female has more blue on her hindwings. 

We decided we were finally going to go outside to plant the lavender and artemesia we bought yesterday, but we needed to make just one more posting when we saw your submission.  Thanks for sending us your excellent photos.

Pair of Black Swallowtails (female on left)
Pair of Black Swallowtails (female on left)

Letter 4 – Female Black Swallowtail Butterfly

Subject: Black Swallowtail – Male
Location: Toronto
July 14, 2016 3:03 pm
Hi, I am pretty sure this is a young male Black Swallowtail – but just to be sure! Thanks for all you do!
Signature: filigree

Female Black Swallowtail Butterfly
Female Black Swallowtail Butterfly

Dear filigree,
You have correctly identified the species of this Black Swallowtail butterfly, however, you have incorrectly identified its sex.  This is a female Black Swallowtail butterfly, as identified by the blue scales on the lower wings.  Male Black Swallowtail butterflies lack the blue. 

This posting from our archives illustrates a pair of Black Swallowtails side by side.  See BugGuide for verification, where it states:  “Female, with its large blue patches on hindwings, is a mimic of the Pipevine Swallowtail. Some female Black Swallowtails have little yellow on wings above. Males have more extensive broken yellow band.”

Letter 5 – Female Black Swallowtails

Subject:  Perhaps Black Swallowtail Butterflies?
Geographic location of the bug:  Coryell County, TX
Date: 03/22/2018
Time: 03:28 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  Hello again!
Just wanted to share these beautiful butterflies visiting the phlox yesterday; warm weather here. I think these are Black Swallowtails. You have kindly identified them for me before. Two flew off together, dancing around each other in the air.
Thank you and very best wishes!
How you want your letter signed:  Ellen

Female Black Swallowtail

Hi Ellen,
You are correct that these are Black Swallowtails.  Both individuals are female Black Swallowtails which have a generous dusting of blue scales on the hind wings while male Black Swallowtails have more yellow spots.  Has your Whitelined Sphinx returned???

Female Black Swallowtails

Good morning, and thank you! Yes, the White-lined Sphinx has returned, with another individual,  and actual hummingbirds also, Black-chinned and Ruby-throated.

The Sphinx are beautiful moths, and I had never noticed them in our yard before this year, although my neighbor has had them visit for several years. One has been visiting the always-popular Salvia greggii.
I hope you’ll both have a wonderful day.
Ellen

Female Black Swallowtails

Authors

  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts
Tags: Black Swallowtail

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