Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar: Essential Facts and Care Tips

The Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar is a fascinating creature that turns into the striking black and blue Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly. Found primarily in the eastern parts of the United States, this caterpillar has some unique features that make it stand out among other species. In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about the Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar.

One of the most interesting aspects of this caterpillar is its adaptive coloration. As it grows, it changes colors from a camouflaged brown and white to a vibrant green, allowing it to blend with its surroundings. Additionally, these caterpillars have a unique way of protecting themselves from predators; when threatened, they will display a pair of snake-like eyespots to scare predators away.

As a spicebush swallowtail caterpillar enthusiast, it is essential to understand its life cycle and the vital role it plays in the ecosystem. Feeding primarily on spicebush and sassafras plants, these caterpillars play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy environment and supporting food chains. By the end of this article, you’ll have a wealth of information about this captivating creature and its fascinating journey from caterpillar to butterfly.

Overview of Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

The Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar is the larval stage of the Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio troilus). This caterpillar is quite fascinating due to its unique features and adaptive coloration.

These caterpillars are known for their distinct green color, which helps them blend in with their surroundings. In terms of size, they can be quite large and belong to the Papilionidae family of butterflies. Below are some of their characteristics:

  • Bright green or sometimes yellow
  • Smooth body texture
  • Two large, round black spots with orange or yellow edges near the head
  • Four lines of blue spots with black edges

As they grow, this caterpillar goes through several stages called instars. They feed and grow on Spicebush plants, which are quite common in the eastern and mid-western United States.

One interesting behavior of the Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar is that it uses silk to create a shelter within the plant leaves. This helps protect it from predators while it is still in its vulnerable caterpillar stage.

In summary, the Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar is a fascinating creature due to its beautiful appearance and remarkable adaptations. Keep an eye out for them in your surroundings and enjoy their presence in the natural world.

Identification and Description

Physical Description and Coloration

The Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar is an interesting and beautiful creature. Its colors and markings vary depending on the stage of its life cycle. As a young caterpillar, it has a green color with white sides. As it matures, it develops a brown hue. The mature caterpillar is notably dark green on the back, becoming whiter on the sides. It has two large, round black spots with orange or yellow edges near its head. Additionally, it has four lines of blue spots with black edges extending along its body.

Difference Between Male and Female

When it comes to the Spicebush Swallowtail butterflies, there are differences in the coloration and markings between males and females. On the upper surface of the forewing, both have mostly black color with ivory spots along the margin. Meanwhile, the upper surface of the hindwing in males displays a bluish-green sheen while in females, it features a blue sheen. Furthermore, the underside of the hindwing has pale green spots in both genders.

In summary, the Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar has a fascinating appearance that changes as it progresses through its life cycle. When observing the butterflies, you can distinguish between males and females by the coloration and markings on their wings.

Life Cycle and Stages

Egg Stage

The life cycle of the Spicebush Swallowtail begins with the egg stage. Female butterflies lay light greenish-white, spherical eggs singly on host leaves, usually on spicebush or sassafras plants source. This stage lasts about 4-10 days, after which the eggs hatch into larvae.

Larval Stage

The next stage is the larval stage, commonly known as the caterpillar stage. During this stage, the Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar goes through several developmental phases called instars. In the earlier instars, the caterpillar resembles bird droppings, which is an effective camouflage strategy against potential predators source.

As the caterpillar grows, it changes its appearance in later instars by developing two pairs of false eyespots on their body. These eyespots are believed to mimic green snakes or tree frogs, further deterring predators source. During this stage, the caterpillar produces silk, which it uses to create a shelter in the host plant, where it rests and molts.

Chrysalis Stage

After the larval stage, the Spicebush Swallowtail enters the chrysalis stage. In this stage, the caterpillar forms a pupa, which is a protective outer casing. The pupa is green or brown with a cream-colored saddle source. Inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar undergoes a complete metamorphosis, transforming into an adult butterfly. This stage can last from 10 days to several weeks, depending on factors such as temperature and humidity.

Adult Stage

The final stage is the adult stage, where the fully developed Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly emerges from the chrysalis. The adult butterfly has black forewings with rows of white spots near the outer margin. The hind wings are also black, adorned with two orange spots, a row of spots fading from white to pale blue, and a conspicuous tail on each hind wing source. Adult butterflies feed on nectar from various flowers and mate to continue the life cycle. The adult stage typically lasts around 6-14 days for the Spicebush Swallowtail.

Habitat and Distribution

The Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar can be found in various habitats across North America. Its range expands from southern Canada, through the eastern United States, and extends to states like Texas and Florida. You may often spot these caterpillars in swamps and other damp environments where the host plants, such as the Spicebush, thrive.

In these habitats, you’ll see that the caterpillars play a crucial role in the local ecosystem. Numerous bird species, as well as mammals like deer, rabbits, and raccoons, feed on the foliage of the plants where these caterpillars lay their eggs. The Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar is also known to contribute to the pollination process as it matures into an adult butterfly.

Some key features of the Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar’s habitat and distribution include:

  • Predominantly found in eastern United States, southern Canada, and states like Texas and Florida.
  • Thrives in damp environments, such as swamps.
  • Feeds on host plants like the Spicebush.
  • Contributes to pollination as it matures into an adult butterfly.

By understanding the range and preferred habitats of the Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar, you can appreciate the vital role it plays in these ecosystems and its value to the environment. Remember to keep a lookout for these fascinating caterpillars when you explore their natural habitats.

Diet and Feeding

The Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar primarily feeds on the leaves of its host plants, such as sassafras and spicebush. As a caterpillar, it is essential for their growth and development. They also rely on different nectar plants when they become butterflies.

When looking for food, the caterpillar is relatively selective. Some examples of host plants include:

  • Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)
  • Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)
  • Red Bay (Persea borbonia)

In addition to their preferred host plants, Spicebush Swallowtail butterflies also feed on the nectar of various flowers. This is crucial for their energy and reproduction. Some nectar plants they favor are:

  • Milkweed (Asclepias spp.)
  • Phlox (Phlox spp.)
  • Coneflowers (Echinacea spp.)

It’s interesting to note the differences in the caterpillar’s diet as it transforms into a butterfly. Below is a comparison table highlighting the variations in their feeding habits:

Stage Food Source Plant Examples
Caterpillar (Larva) Leaves of host plants Sassafras, Spicebush, Red Bay
Butterfly (Adult) Nectar from flowers Milkweed, Phlox, Coneflowers

By understanding the diet and feeding habits of the Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar, you can help support their presence in your garden or natural environment. Providing a variety of host and nectar plants will attract these magnificent creatures and contribute to their overall well-being.

So, if you’re keen on observing these captivating insects in your own backyard, consider growing some of their preferred plants. Your garden will become a haven for the Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar and subsequently, the adult butterfly.

Natural Predators and Defense Mechanism

Predators of the Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

The Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar faces threats from various predators, including birds and green snakes. The most common avian predators include warblers, flycatchers, and cuckoos. Green snakes, such as the smooth green snake, are also known to target these caterpillars.

Defense Mechanisms

In response to these natural predators, the caterpillar has developed defense mechanisms to increase its chances of survival. One such mechanism is the osmeterium. This is a non-aggressive strategy that involves the caterpillar displaying a forked, glandular structure when threatened.

  • The osmeterium contains a foul-smelling secretion, which deters predators.
  • Another defense mechanism employed by the caterpillar is its unique coloration that mimics toxic or unpalatable species, making it less appealing to predators.

To summarize:

Defense Mechanism Description
Osmeterium Forked structure with foul-smelling secretion
Mimicry Coloration that mimics toxic or unpalatable species

In conclusion, understanding the natural predators and defense mechanisms of the Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar can provide valuable insights into its ecology and guide efforts in sustaining its populations.

Impact on Ecosystem and Humans

Role in Ecosystem

The Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar plays a crucial role in the ecosystem. As a herbivore, it feeds on the leaves of host plants like the spicebush and sassafras, which promotes new growth for these native plants. This, in turn, provides food for other insects and animals in the food chain.

Moreover, adult Spicebush Swallowtail butterflies contribute to the pollination process by visiting various flowers for nectar. This helps with the reproduction of native plants and supports the ecosystem’s overall health and biodiversity.

Caterpillar and Human Interaction

For those interested in butterfly gardening, incorporating Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillars can be a rewarding experience. Selecting the right host plants, like spicebush and sassafras, and nectar plants, such as milkweeds and asters, can attract these caterpillars to your garden.

Here’s a list of compatible plants for your butterfly garden:

  • Host plants: Spicebush, Sassafras
  • Nectar plants: Milkweeds, Asters, Goldenrods

These caterpillars can also serve as an educational tool for learning about lifecycles and metamorphosis. Observing the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly can be a fascinating experience for both kids and adults.

However, be aware that Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillars might feed on some of your plants. As long as you plan your garden with this in mind and provide enough host plants, you can still enjoy a beautiful and diverse butterfly garden, witnessing the incredible life cycle of the Spicebush Swallowtail firsthand.

Conservation Status and Threats

The Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar is a fascinating creature found primarily in the eastern half of the United States. You might be curious about its conservation status and potential threats.

Currently, the Spicebush Swallowtail does not have a concerning conservation status. It’s considered to be common in natural areas and flower gardens throughout its range. This is good news for nature lovers like you, as it indicates that the species is thriving overall.

However, there could still be threats to its population. Habitat loss is a common problem for many species. As humans expand and develop land, the Spicebush Swallowtail may lose the necessary resources and environments to prosper. So, be mindful of preserving natural habitats when possible.

Moreover, the use of pesticides in gardens could pose a threat, as they can be harmful to these caterpillars. Consider opting for eco-friendly pest control measures to protect these beautiful creatures.

By being aware of the potential threats and conscious in your actions, you can contribute to the ongoing health of the Spicebush Swallowtail population. Remember, every little effort counts when it comes to conservation!

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 – Spicebrush Swallowtail Caterpillar: Orange Morph

 

Orange caterpillar
We found this is our driveway today. One of the photos on your site had one that looked like it but said they were green or brown. This one is yellow orange. What is it?
Love your site!
Southern Ohio

Hi Buckeye,
Though we have not heard of an orange morph of a Tiger Swallowtail before, we go on the record as identifying your caterpillar as one. They are usually green and turn darker, often brown, just before pupating.

Update Oops, We stand corrected: (04/26/2006)
I was looking over your excellent site again and noticed that on Caterpillars 3 on the 9/21/2005 from S. Ohio you identified the orange caterpillar as a Tiger Swallowtail. It is actually a Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar. The eye spots are very characteristic. Also, the Spicebush swallowtail does have an orange morph.
Susan

Question about the name
August 31, 2009
Hi… a friend was getting my assistance today in identifying a caterpillar. She later said that she found it on your site and that it was a “Spicebrush Swallowtail.” I instantly thought that it should be “Spicebush” Swallowtail (bush, not brush), so I came to your site to investigate. Sure enough, you had four or five entries (found via the search option) where they were called “spicebrush” swallowtails.
I think this is an error and that it should be “spicebush,” but I’m not an entomologist and will defer to your expertise. Just wanted to alter you, or be educated myself. 🙂
Stephanie

Hi Stephanie,
The letter you cite is an older posting to our site, and though we have seen both spellings in our research, we agree that the common name Spicebush is more appropriate.  In our childhood, we referred to the butterfly as a Spicebrush Swallowtail, and that name stuck for a long time.  Often errors become established as alternate names.  Though we are not correcting this spelling in our archive, we do take note and all recent postings are identified as Spicebush Swallowtails.

Letter 2 – Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

 

The coolest caterpillar ever at least in NJ
Location: Coastal Central NJ
November 12, 2011 9:55 pm
My daughter found this caterpillar in the road
Signature: Chris Miller

Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

Hi Chris,
This is the caterpillar of a Spicebush Swallowtail.  It is widely believed that the false eyes are a type of mimicry that helps to deter predators like birds that mistake this potentially bitesized morsel for an even larger predator like a snake.

Permission to reproduce photo requested
December 1, 2011 10:08 am
Dear Daniel Marlos,
I take the liberty of writing to you because I am about to publish, at Les Éditions de la Transparence, a completely revised version of my doctoral thesis dealing with contemporary painting and entitled L’Image peinte. Enjeux et perspectives de la peinture figurative des années 90 à nos jours, which received in 2009 the Thesis Prize of the University of Aix-Marseille I.
Therefore, I would like to know if you could give us your authorization to print the following reproduction of an image of caterpillar, belonging to the corpus of my aesthetic analysis:
Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar, Coastal Central NJ, Signature Chris Miller.
Thanks in advance for your attention. I am of course entirely at your disposal to answer any question you may have regarding this book, whose publication is programmed for March 2012; a copy will be put at your disposal.
Yours sincerely,
Jean-François Desserre.

Dear Jean-Francois Desserre,
Sorry for the delay, but we are just catching up on old emails.  Thanks for writing and requesting permission to use this photo, however, the copyright does belong to Chris Miller.  We believe we have found his email address and we will copy him to see if he will grant permission.  Normally in situations like this, we request that a comment be posted directly to the original posting so that the photographer can comment.  Good luck with the publication of your thesis.

Letter 3 – Spicebrush Swallowtail

 

Question
Hi,
We found this caterpillar in the yard and took some pictures that are attached. Can you tell me what type of butterfly this is? Thanks,
Mary Ruiz
Hauppauge, N.Y.

Hi Mary,
This is a Spicebrush Swallowtail. They feed on spicebrush, sweet bay, sassafrass and other trees. It becomes a beautiful black butterfly with green markings.

Question about the name
August 31, 2009
Hi… a friend was getting my assistance today in identifying a caterpillar. She later said that she found it on your site and that it was a “Spicebrush Swallowtail.” I instantly thought that it should be “Spicebush” Swallowtail (bush, not brush), so I came to your site to investigate. Sure enough, you had four or five entries (found via the search option) where they were called “spicebrush” swallowtails.
I think this is an error and that it should be “spicebush,” but I’m not an entomologist and will defer to your expertise. Just wanted to alter you, or be educated myself. 🙂
Stephanie

Hi Stephanie,
The letter you cite is an older posting to our site, and though we have seen both spellings in our research, we agree that the common name Spicebush is more appropriate.  In our childhood, we referred to the butterfly as a Spicebrush Swallowtail, and that name stuck for a long time.  Often errors become established as alternate names.  Though we are not correcting this spelling in our archive, we do take note and all recent postings are identified as Spicebush Swallowtails.

Letter 4 – Spicebrush Swallowtail

 

a black butterfly – Identification for artistic purposes.
Hey!
I am a photographer, and my latest preoccupation is taking pictures of myself holding various insects. Previously I submitted an adorable little fuzzy moth, and to add to that I also have what I’m pretty sure is a paper wasp, and what I think might be a swallowtail butterfly. Both were photographed in Richmond, VA. I unfortunately can’t remember the seasons. If you get a chance, let me know. Thank you for your wonderful site!
Kelli.

Hi Kelli,
Your butterfly is a Spicebrush Swallowtail, Papilio troilus.

Question about the name
August 31, 2009
Hi… a friend was getting my assistance today in identifying a caterpillar. She later said that she found it on your site and that it was a “Spicebrush Swallowtail.” I instantly thought that it should be “Spicebush” Swallowtail (bush, not brush), so I came to your site to investigate. Sure enough, you had four or five entries (found via the search option) where they were called “spicebrush” swallowtails.
I think this is an error and that it should be “spicebush,” but I’m not an entomologist and will defer to your expertise. Just wanted to alter you, or be educated myself. 🙂
Stephanie

Hi Stephanie,
The letter you cite is an older posting to our site, and though we have seen both spellings in our research, we agree that the common name Spicebush is more appropriate.  In our childhood, we referred to the butterfly as a Spicebrush Swallowtail, and that name stuck for a long time.  Often errors become established as alternate names.  Though we are not correcting this spelling in our archive, we do take note and all recent postings are identified as Spicebush Swallowtails.

Letter 5 – Spicebrush Swallowtail in Northeast Ohio

 

Subject:  Ichneumon
Geographic location of the bug:  Campbell, Ohio
Date: 08/07/2021
Time: 10:56 AM EDT
Gentle Readers,
Daniel has still not had a chance to post all the great insects he has been photographing in Ohio. This Spicebush Swallowtail was quite elusive and would not let Daniel get close.

Spicebush Swallowtail

 

Letter 6 – Spicebush Swallowtail

 

Black Swallowtail?
Hello yet again, I have a few photos I took today of what I believe is a black swallowtail butterfly on my exotic lilies. Am I correct this time?
Nina

Hi Nina,
Ths spot pattern on the underside of the hind wing indicates that this is a Spicebush Swallowtail, Papilio troilus.

Letter 7 – Spicebush Swallowtail

 

this black beauty loves my pond
found yesterday .hopefuully not destructive, stayed around pond for hours landing mostly on recently watered mulch . whaddya think? ive had loads of monarchs lately this was distinctively different so i walked over and snapped . thanks
kevin

Hi Kevin,
Your butterfly is a male Spicebush Swallowtail, and he is puddling.

Letter 8 – Spicebush Swallowtail

 

Black And Blue Butterfly
July 14, 2009
I went out to a friend’s house this weekend, located in Middle Of Nowhere, Northwest Michigan, and we were followed around all day by this guy. It was up at her stables, fluttering around the mud, and didn’t seem at all bothered by the fact that we were bathing horses on top of it for almost two hours. In between horses I managed to snap a few shots and two short videos, but this was the only picture that turned out. I had to just zoom and hope since it was not very keen on holding still (thus no size indicator either). It was about as big as a monarch butterfly, and we think it is some kind of swallowtail because of the teardrop shapes on the bottoms of its wings, but I’ve only ever seen them in black and yellow around here. The underside/outside of its wings was bla ck with some rusty-orange colored markings.
Jere
Fremont, MI

Spicebush Swallowtail
Spicebush Swallowtail

Dear Jere,
You are correct about this being a Swallowtail.  It is a Spicebush Swallowtail, Papilio troilus.  It appears to be a male and he is puddling.  Sometimes newly emerged male Swallowtails and other butterflies congregate around areas of moisture.  They drink the moisture to ingest important salts and minerals.

Letter 9 – Spicebush Swallowtail

 

Black Butterfly
Location: Woods, on Pink Ball
July 4, 2011 8:58 am
I was walking around my backyard when I turned around and noticed in our woods where our old pink ball stands, there was a huge black butterfly with little white spots on the ends of the wings. Could you please tell me what this beautiful bug is?
Signature: Maddison .L.

Spicebush Swallowtail

Hi Maddison,
Your excellent photo of a male Spicebush Swallowtail allows us to eliminate other dark swallowtails that also range in your area of the woods on a pink ball.  Typically, the location field on our form is used to supply a state, country, county or city or some other identifiable location as opposed to a vague site like woods with a pink ball.

I apologize, I wasn’t too sure what it meant, here is the real location; United States, Massachusetts, Centerville

Letter 10 – Spicebush Swallowtail

 

Subject: Butterfly in transition?
Location: NW corner of CT.
August 19, 2012 11:13 am
Took this in the NW corner of Connecticut. At first we thought it was a Red Spotted Purple, but on close look it isn’t. A transiting Black Swallowtail perhaps?
Signature: L. Welles

Spicebush Swallowtail

Dear L. Welles,
This Spicebush Swallowtail,
Papilio troilus, which you may read about on BugGuide, appears to be missing its signature tails, or perhaps they are just hidden in the tall grass.  We are happy you submitted photos showing both the upper wing coloration and markings as well as the lower wing markings and coloration.

Spicebush Swallowtail

 

Letter 11 – Spicebush Swallowtail

 

Subject: Black or Spicebush Swallowtail?
Location: Perinton, NY
August 15, 2016 6:31 pm
Hi! This beauty was enjoying the thistles on the right-of-way behind our home. I apologize, I could only get closed wing shots, as it wouldn’t sit still for long! From what I can tell from Google, it looks like a Spicebush, but after viewing your website, I could be wrong. Thanks for any help you can give me! (Both photos are if the same individual )
Signature: Jennifer

Spicebush Swallowtail
Spicebush Swallowtail

Dear Jennifer,
This is a Spicebush Swallowtail,
Papilio troilus, which is described on BugGuide as:  “Adult: Upper surface of forewing is mostly black with ivory spots along margin. Upper surface of hindwing has orange spot on costal margin and sheen of bluish (female) or bluish-green (male) scales. Underside of hindwing with pale green marginal spots.(1) Median spotband on underside of hindwing missing one orange spot.”  The missing orange spot is visible in your image.  If you notice the inner band of spots, where the third from the bottom should exist, there is instead a dusting of blue-green scales that matches the pattern on this BugGuide image of a Spicebush Swallowtail, as opposed to this BugGuide image of a Black Swallowtail.

Letter 12 – Spicebush Swallowtail

 

Spicebush SwallowtailSubject:  Black butterfly
Geographic location of the bug:  Athens Texas
Date: 09/22/2017
Time: 09:25 PM EDT
I am interested to know the identification of a butterfly.
How you want your letter signed:  Janice

Spicebush Swallowtail

Dear Janice,
The green spots on the lower wings indicate this is a male Spicebush Swallowtail like the one in this BugGuide image.

Letter 13 – Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

 

Cool catepillar
Here is picture of a catepillar with eyes and a goatee I found crawling across my driveway in northeast Texas (Texarkana). The ‘goatee’ is actually not hairy but the bottom of its mouth — just looks like a goatee in the picture. It looks similar to a few on your site but not quite like any of them. I’ve never seen one before — any idea what it is?? You can use the pictures if you want — I enjoyed looking through your site.
Michael

Hi Michael,
We have 11 Caterpillar pages on our site and several images of your species, the Spicebush Swallowtail, Papilio troilus.

Letter 14 – Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

 

swallowtail
I think this is some type of swallowtail. I found it in Shenandoah National Park. Could you identify it for me? I plan on printing out a poster of it. I also thought you could post it cause I thought it was a very good pic. Thanks,
Brady

Hi Brady,
This is a Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar and it should make a lovely poster.

Letter 15 – Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

 

Caterpllar ID please
I have been searching all sorts of photos on the web. I have not been able to find anything that remotely resembles this fella. I live in Central PA.
Ellen

Hi Ellen,
This is a Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar. Over the years, we have received at least 4 images and have them in our archives buried somewhere on our 7 caterpillar pages.

Letter 16 – Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

 

whats this bug
hello.
we would like to find out what this bug is. it is yellow and has green suction cup feet with 2 blue spots on each segment of his body. he looks similar to a caterpillar. he has cartoonish looking black lines and spots on his head and around his eyes. we’ve never seen anything like this. thanks
katie and kapri

Hi Katie and Kapri,
This is a Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar. They often turn from green to orange just before getting ready to metamorphose into a chrysalis.

Letter 17 – Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

 

bugs.
Help…. Last year I found this orange dinasour looking bug. Everyone that I showed this picture to said that they thought it was fake. Can you please help. Please advise
Thanks
Bambi

Hi Bambi,
This is a Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar. Judging by the posture and coloration, it is getting ready to form a chrysalis. The Caterpillars are normally green and often change color to a bright orange. The eyespots are a defensive form of coloration to frighten predators.

Letter 18 – Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

 

Looks like a yellow caterpillar
Can you tell me what this insect is? It was found crawling around on a pile of firewood in Evansville, IN.
Tammy

Hi Tammy
This is a Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar.

Letter 19 – Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

 

Do you know what this is?
My daughter found this caterpillar (I think) in our driveway this afternoon. It is about 1.5 inches long. I looked on several websites and couldn’t find anything exactly like it. Do you know the species of caterpillar (if that is what it is) this is?
Metropolis, IL (Southern)
Just curious

Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar
Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

Dear Curious
Your photo depicts a Spicebush Swallowtail just prior to metamorphosis.  Many typically green caterpillars change colors like brown or orange just before molting into the chrysalis or pupa stage.  The false eyespots help protect the tasty caterpillar by fooling predators into thinking the caterpillar is much larger and possibly dangerous.  They make the caterpillar look like a snake.

Letter 20 – Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

 

Please help!
Location:  Southeastern Ohio
August 14, 2010 4:46 pm
My husband found this critter on our cucumber plant. We live in Amanda Ohio (southeaster Ohio). Please help identify this bug.
Amy

Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

Hi Amy,
This is a most unusual sighting, not because of what your found, but because of where you found it.  Whenever a caterpillar if found, identification is easier if the plant upon which the caterpillar is found is identified because often the food plant is very limited.  This is a Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar,
Papilio troilus.  According to BugGuide, the Caterpillar of the Spicebush Swallowtail feeds on:  “Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), Sassafras trees (Sassafras albidum), Pondspice (Litsea aestivalis) Red, Swamp and Silk Bays (Persea spp.); perhaps prickly ash (Zanthoxylum americanum), Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), Sweetbay (Magnolia virginiana), and Camphor (Cinnamomum camphora).”  Are any of these plants growing near your cucumber plant?  We suspect this caterpillar is ready to metamorphose into a chrysalis.  At that time, many caterpillars leave the host plant to search for a suitable location in which to transform to the sedentary phase of their life while preparing to become a winged butterfly or moth.  We suspect today you may find a very different looking critter.

Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

Letter 21 – Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

 

Chipmunk Caterpillar
Location:  North central West Virginia
September 26, 2010 6:52 am
My friend and I found this cute little guy on the first day of fall, September 22, crawling towards us as we sat in the shade of a sycamore tree, close to the creek bank in my horse field. When it got within a foot or so it raised the front portion of its body and kind of swayed side to side, reminiscent of a curious snake, but it really reminds us of a chipmunk (pic #1). When she agitated it with the leaf (trying to contain it while I was getting the camera) 2 horn/antennae came out but were withdrawn quickly. The black spots look just like eyes, while the smaller spots behind them look like ears. When we were trying to photograph the ”horns” she tried to pick it up and it put off an ugly odor (pic #2). Unlike other caterpillars I have seen, this one has a round mouth on the underside, (pic #3) that made me think of some kind of a sucker. Please help us with this, it was a great experience to run into this little guy but we are flashing his picture around like cops looking for a missing person to no avail. No one we know has ever seen anything like this.
Signature:  Jerri Kelley

Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

Hi Jerri,
You encountered a Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar, and the eyespots are a very effective means for discouraging predators into thinking the bite-sized caterpillar might actually be a larger and significantly dangerous predator like a snake.  The horns are a scent organ that produced the odor you noticed and they are known as the osmetrium.  You can get more information on BugGuide.

Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

Thank you so much for your help.  2 pages after I submitted my request I found the picture identifying the little bugger.  As many swallowtail butterflies that we have around here, it’s surprising that this was my first encounter with the caterpillar.  Again, thank you.  Jerri

Letter 22 – Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

 

what kind of creature is this
Location: coeburn virginia
November 8, 2010 8:14 pm
found this in the yard this summer ….can you tell me what it is??
Signature: amanda mills

Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

Hi Amanda,
You have discovered the caterpillar of a Spicebush Swallowtail,
Papilio troilus, and judging by its coloration, it is getting ready to pupate.  The Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar is a green creature that blends into the leaves upon which it feeds.  It has large eyespots to dissuade any potential avian predators that might try to eat it because the bird may be fooled into thinking the harmless caterpillar is a predatory snake.  The coloration of the caterpillar changes to golden or even orange just prior to metamorphosis, at which time it will leave the safety of the branches to hunt for an appropriate location to transform into a chrysalis.  Autumn is the season that our website receives the most identification requests for spiders and caterpillars as they become more visible at that time of year.

Letter 23 – Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

 

What’s this caterpiller?
Location: Ft. Smith, AR
September 23, 2011 5:43 pm
Found him on our outdoor carpet in a campground near Ft. Smith, AR.
Signature: sally01

Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

Hi sally01,
This distinctive caterpillar with metamorphose into a Spicebush Swallowtail.

Letter 24 – Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

 

Subject: What is this?
Location: Virginia
July 21, 2013 2:57 pm
Please help me identify what this is. My cousin found it on her back deck. She lives in Virginia.
Signature: Robyn fox

Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar
Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

Hi Robyn,
This is the caterpillar of a Spicebush Swallowtail, and it is most likely searching for a place to pupate.  Caterpillars often leave the plants they have been feeding upon just prior to the time they are ready to undergo metamorphosis.  There must be some advantage to forming a chrysalis away from the food source.  According to BugGuide, preferred food plants for the caterpillar include:  “Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), Sassafras trees (Sassafras albidum), Pondspice (Litsea aestivalis) Red, Swamp and Silk Bays (Persea spp.); perhaps prickly ash (Zanthoxylum americanum), Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), Sweetbay (Magnolia virginiana), and Camphor (Cinnamomum camphora).”
  Perhaps one of those plants is growing not far from the location of the sighting.

Letter 25 – Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

 

Subject: Caterpillar id
Location: Deatsville, Alabama
September 28, 2013 1:17 pm
Found this quick scooting caterpillar in September 2013.
The ”eye markings” are very distinctive, and I’m hoping you can tell me what it is.
Signature: Sheri M.

Spicebush Swallowtail
Spicebush Swallowtail

Hi Sheri,
This is the caterpillar of a Spicebush Swallowtail,
Papilio troilus.

Letter 26 – Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

 

Subject: Orange caterpillar (?) with face on it’s back?
Location: West Virginia
September 24, 2014 3:01 pm
Our kindergarten classes were outside on the playground at recess and found this bug. It has spots that appear to be a mouth and eyes on its head. We looked it up and thought perhaps it was a Pandora sphinx caterpillar but aren’t sure. My fellow teacher and I would love to know what it is so we can tell our classes more about it!
Signature: Welch Elementary Kindergarten

Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar
Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

Dear Welch Elementary Kindergarten,
This distinctive caterpillar is a Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar.  The false eyespots might help protect the tasty caterpillar from predators like birds that may mistake a toothsome caterpillar for a much larger and potentially dangerous snake.  Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillars feed on a variety of trees, including “Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), Sassafras trees (Sassafras albidum), Pondspice (Litsea aestivalis) Red, Swamp and Silk Bays (Persea spp.); perhaps prickly ash (Zanthoxylum americanum), Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), Sweetbay (Magnolia virginiana), and Camphor (Cinnamomum camphora)” according to BugGuide.  They begin life as green caterpillars that are well camouflaged, but as the time for pupation nears, they often turn orange, leave the trees they have been feeding upon, and find an appropriate site to metamorphose into a chrysalis.  The adult Spicebush Swallowtail is a beautiful black butterfly with colorful markings.

Thank you so much!  We looked it up on the Smart Board and discussed the life cycle. We printed a picture of the butterfly so we can watch for them in the spring.
You have a great site!
Mrs. Merkle

Letter 27 – Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

 

Subject: never seen one
Location: mobile, al
May 1, 2015 1:36 pm
Found this eating camphor leaves. What in the world?
Signature: nathan

Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar
Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

Dear Nathan,
This is the Caterpillar of a Spicebush Swallowtail,
Papilio troilus, and most of the images on our site are more mature caterpillars, including many that are turning orange just prior to pupation.  Your earlier instar can be compared to this image on BugGuide.  According to BugGuide, preferred food plants include:  “Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), Sassafras trees (Sassafras albidum), Pondspice (Litsea aestivalis) Red, Swamp and Silk Bays (Persea spp.); perhaps prickly ash (Zanthoxylum americanum), Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), Sweetbay (Magnolia virginiana), and Camphor (Cinnamomum camphora).”  The adult Spicebush Swallowtail is a beautiful butterfly.

Letter 28 – Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

 

Subject: What is this
Location: Ohio
July 16, 2016 5:14 am
This was found in a garden in eastern Ohio. I’m curious as to what it is.
Signature: Ron

Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar
Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

Dear Ron,
This is the Caterpillar of a Spicebush Swallowtail, and it is widely accepted that the caterpillar has evolved so that the false eyespots on the caterpillar act as a form of protective mimicry by potentially fooling predators into thinking that their prey might actually be a larger and potentially threatening predator itself.  According to BugGuide:  “Caterpillar hosts: Spicebush (
Lindera benzoin), Sassafras trees (Sassafras albidum), Pondspice (Litsea aestivalis) Red, Swamp and Silk Bays (Persea spp.); perhaps prickly ash (Zanthoxylum americanum), Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), Sweetbay (Magnolia virginiana), and Camphor (Cinnamomum camphora).”  Do you have any of those plants in your garden?

Letter 29 – Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

 

Subject: Unknown critter
Location: Galveston, Tx
November 25, 2016 10:24 am
Hi,
No, this is not a stuffed toy! Found this 1 1/2″ critter on my patio in Galveston, Texas 2 days ago. I did not touch it but my neighbor’s young daughter put in her hand and it was crawling around in her hand. Any idea what it could be??
Signature: Lonnie

Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar
Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

Dear Lonnie,
This is a Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar.  The adult Spicebush Swallowtail is a large black butterfly with colorful spots and “tails” on its underwings.

Daniel,
Thank you so much, this was driving me crazy!! Glad to hear it is a butterfly as this is my first year to raise and release the Monarch butterfly.
Thank you again

Letter 30 – Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

 

Subject:  Caterpillar
Geographic location of the bug:  North East Alabama
Date: 09/11/2018
Time: 04:57 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman:  What kind of caterpillar is this?
How you want your letter signed:  Lisa

Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

Dear Lisa,
The orange color on your Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar indicates it is pre-pupal, and getting very close to forming a chrysalis.

Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar

Letter 31 – Spicebush Swallowtail Chrysalis

 

Subject: Prepupal Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar
Location: New Jersey
September 10, 2013 7:15 am
Can you tell me how long before we have an emergence? I would like to video if around at the time. These are the latest pictures from this morning. Thank you! 🙂
Signature: Interested, Barbara

Spicebush Swallowtail Chrysalis
Spicebush Swallowtail Chrysalis

Hi Barbara,
Even though Mike sent the original photo, we suspect your Spicebush Swallowtail Chrysalis is the same as the pre-pupal Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar we recently posted.  Normally we would expect eclosion of the adult to occur in a few weeks, but this individual might be preparing to pass the winter as a chrysalis.

Yes, it is the same. I had posted the picture to FB that Mike copied and sent to you because I was inquiring if anyone knew what it was and couldn’t find anything online. He is the Pastor at our churchJ and found your site. He is very resourceful. Thank you for the information. So, we just wait and watch. I am hoping those little silky threads can sustain it through winter and windsJ thank you for your time in responding to me! Barbara (and Father Mike)

Letter 32 – Spicebush Swallowtail Chrysalis

 

Subject: weird big thing
Location: south eastern Pennsylvania
August 27, 2016 6:01 pm
this was found on my neighbors house, we live in the suburbs and her house is backed up against the woods, I don’t know if any of that helps… but if you could identify this for me I’m quite curious!
Signature: Karen

Probably Spicebush Swallowtail Chrysalis
Probably Spicebush Swallowtail Chrysalis

Dear Karen,
This is the chrysalis of a Swallowtail Butterfly, and we believe it belongs to a Spicebush Swallowtail based on comparing your image to this BugGuide image.  According to Featured Creatures:  “Pupae: Pupae have two anterior “horns”. Pupae from larvae developing under long photoperiods may be either green (Figure 9) or brown (Figure 10). All pupae from short photoperiod larvae (diapause pupae) are brown. Within the last 24 hours prior to adult emergence, the pre-adult gradually becomes visible through the transparent pupal cuticle.”

Spicebush Swallowtail Chrysalis
Spicebush Swallowtail Chrysalis

Authors

    by
  • 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.

  • 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.

19 thoughts on “Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar: Essential Facts and Care Tips”

  1. The orange Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar is one that is about to pupate. The day before the pupate, they turn orange. As they crawl to find a spot to pupate, their movement becomes a bit jerky, not the normal smooth crawl of a Spicebush caterpillar. Palamedes/Laurel Swallowtail caterpillars tend to turn more yellow the day before they pupate.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the explanation Edith. This is an old posting and we have since learned to identify the pre-pupal coloration of many caterpillars.

      Reply
  2. when I was a little girl 60 yrs are so,,we used to see these all the time,,we live in Illinois,, since we don’t see these are to many other pretty catepillars ,is that why you don’t see to many Butterflies. I hardly ever see big butterflies . This is sad,,It was always so fun to find one of these little worms,,and play with them. Thank You

    Reply
    • In order to have butterflies, you must have food for the caterpillars. Perhaps the plants that produced the food for the Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillars no longer grow in your area. Also, children are often more observant than adults.

      Reply
  3. I have a question, I live in N.M and found a spicebush swallowtail caterpillar! Is normal for this caterpillar in this part of the United States? Also are they dangerous?

    Reply
    • BugGuide reports Spicebush Swallowtails as far west as Texas, so it is possible they are also found in New Mexico. It might also be another species of Swallowtail Swallowtail Caterpillars are not dangerous.

      Reply
  4. We just found this pretty catapiller in Wiodine N.J. He/she is so cool. We are going to try and keep it till it turns into a butterfly.

    Reply
  5. We live in Essex and found this going across our decking. Not sure where it has come from. Are they know to be in this area. Essex England.

    Reply
    • According to BugGuide: “Caterpillar hosts: Spicebush (Lindera benzoin), Sassafras trees (Sassafras albidum), Pondspice (Litsea aestivalis) Red, Swamp and Silk Bays (Persea spp.); perhaps prickly ash (Zanthoxylum americanum), Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera), Sweetbay (Magnolia virginiana), and Camphor (Cinnamomum camphora).”

      Reply
  6. hi
    I was just in my yard in northeast ohio and saw something ive never seen before. It appeared to be an all black butterfly. The main abdomen,slightly may have been dark brown. It was flitting from flower to flower but never stopping its wings. Ive seen hummingbirds before and that wasnt it. Ive seen swallowtails with other colors in wings, but this was all black. We have black wasps but the wings on this were giant. It didnt fly like a wasp,hummingbird, or butterflies ive seen where they pause on a flower. This would land but quickly move. Thanks for the site

    Reply
  7. hi
    I was just in my yard in northeast ohio and saw something ive never seen before. It appeared to be an all black butterfly. The main abdomen,slightly may have been dark brown. It was flitting from flower to flower but never stopping its wings. Ive seen hummingbirds before and that wasnt it. Ive seen swallowtails with other colors in wings, but this was all black. We have black wasps but the wings on this were giant. It didnt fly like a wasp,hummingbird, or butterflies ive seen where they pause on a flower. This would land but quickly move. Thanks for the site

    Reply

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