Papilio machaon (Swallowtail, Schwalbenschwanz, Le Grand Porte-queue)

Papilio machaon, also called Swallowtail or Schwalbenschwanz is a great butterfly from the Palaearctic ecozone (Europe). The first description was in 1758 by Linnaeus. With a wingspan of 6.5 – 7.5 cm the Swallowtail is one of the largest butterflies from Europe. It is a member of the family PAPILIONIDAE. The butterfly is yellow and black. Hind wings have tails. Papilio machaon has one of the largest distribution of PAPILINIDAE. In Holarctic (North Africa, Europe  and Asia) it is distributed.


Photos for easy identification

Photo © by Thomas Neubauer; May 2008
Photo © by Thomas Neubauer; May 2008
Photo © by Thomas Neubauer; 14.05.2007
Photo © by Thomas Neubauer; 17.08.2006, Palace garden; Laxenburg

These are nice photos of Papilio machaon (Swallowtail, Schwalbenschwanz, Le Grand Porte-queue). Papilio machaon is a member of the family PAPILIONIDAE from Palaearctic (Europe).


The forewings are black and have a chain of small yellow spots at the margin. There is a chain of big yellow spots in the middle of the wing. On the wing leading edge there are three yellow spots. The big dark zone nearby the body is powdered by yellow scales.
The underside is a copy of upside, but there are some differences. All yellow areas are broader than upside. Therefore both chain of yellow spots are change to two yellow bands.

The hind wings are yellow and have tails. The margin is ridged. There is a black band going backwards with contain a chain of blue spots. At the beginnig of the black band there is a red eye. At the margin there is a chain of yellow spots. There is a little dark zone around the body. In the yellow area there is a little black strip.
The underside is yellow with black veins. There is no dark area, but the dark area from upside shows through the wing. The blue spots and the red eye are also there. Some of the blue spots have red eyeshadows.

The body is yellow with a small black strip on side and the upside is black.

Sex differences: None


The Swallowtail (Papilio machaon) is a global player among butterflies. In Holarctic ecozone (North America, Europe and Asia) this butterfly is distributed. You can see the Swallowtail until 2500 m sea level.

This world map shows the ecozones in which this butterfly is distributed.

Flight period

The flight period of the Corsican Swallowtail is from April to October. In the North of Europe there is only one brood. In the South there are two to three broods.

Larval food

Dill, Fennel, Caraway, Parsley

Photo © by Thomas Neubauer

General information

The first description of this butterfly was in 1758 by Linnaeus. Because of the very large distribution, there are many subspecies.

  • Papilio machaon aliaska   [Scudder, 1869]
  • Papilio machaon asiaticus   [Ménétriés]
  • Papilio machaon bairdii   [Edwards, 1866] Western Black Swallowtail
  • Papilio machaon baijangensis   [Huang & Murayama]
  • Papilio machaon centralis   [Staudinger, 1886]
  • Papilio machaon gorganus   [Fruhstorfer, 1922]
  • Papilio machaon hudsonianus   [Clark, 1932]
  • Papilio machaon kamtschadalus   [Alpheraky, 1897]
  • Papilio machaon ladakensis   [Moore, 1884]
  • Papilio machaon lapponica   [Verity, 1911]
  • Papilio machaon mauretanica   [Verity, 1905]
  • Papilio machaon oregonius   [Edwards, 1876] Oregon Swallowtail
  • Papilio machaon oreinus   [Sheljuzhko, 1919]
  • Papilio machaon orientis   [Verity, 1911]
  • Papilio machaon pikei   [Sperling, 1987]
  • Papilio machaon sachalinensis   [Matsumura, 1911]
  • Papilio machaon schapiroi   [Seyer, 1976]
  • Papilio machaon sylvinus   [Hemming]
  • Papilio machaon syriacus   [Eller, 1939]
  • Papilio machaon ussuriensis   [Sheljuzhko, 1910]
  • Papilio machaon verityi   [Fruhstorfer, 1907]
  • Papilio machaon weidenhofferi   [Seyer, 1976]

The caterpillar is green with black strips and red spots. The pupa has a silken girdl. It is green or brown. This species overwinters as pupa.

Photo © by Rudolf Faustmann; caterpillar of Papilio machaon
Photo © by Thomas Neubauer; Pupa of Papilio machaon

That is a freshly eclosed swallowtail. It inflate its wings.

Photo © by Thomas Neubauer
Photo © by Thomas Neubauer
Photo © by Thomas Neubauer
Photo © by Thomas Neubauer
Photo © by Thomas Neubauer
Photo © by Thomas Neubauer

The varibility of the Swallowtail is low. Here you can see very rare aberrations of Swallowtail.

Photo © by Thomas Neubauer; 26.02.2005, Entomological meeting, Vienna
Photo © by Thomas Neubauer;May 2008
Photo © by Thomas Neubauer;May 2008

Protection provisions / Red List

Similar and closely-related species

Papilio alexanor Esper 1800 (Southern Swallowtail, Südlicher Schwalbenschwanz)

Papilio hospiton Guenée 1839 (Corsican Swallowtail, Korsischer Schwalbenschwanz)

Papilio zelicaon Lucas 1852 (Anise Swallowtail)

Scientific name

Papilio machaon Linnaeus 1758


Swallowtail, Common Yellow Swallowtail, Old World Swallowtail
Le Grand Porte-queue, Le Machaon
Makaonfjäril; Riddarfjäril
Paź królowej
Otakárek fenyklový
Vidlochvost fenyklový

Classification / Taxonomy / Family tree

To the family tree (Genus: PAPILIO)...



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Back to family Papilionidae from PALAEARCTIC (EUROPE)


Apatura iris
Inachis io
Nymphalis antiopa
Apatura iris
Vanessa atalanta
Papilio machaon
Pierides sp.
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