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Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata)


Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Two-tailed Swallowtail



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Image Credit: Sue S., taken in Billings, MT
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Image Credit: Marjorie S. taken at Cub Lake, CO
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Image Credit: Sue S., taken in Billings, MT
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A popular Tiger Swallowtail west of the Mississippi River, the Two-tailed Swallowtail is blessed with an extra pair of extensions at the tip of its hindwings.



Updated: 06/24/2020; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
Technically one could argue that the Two-tailed Swallowtail has four tails, but the name counts the number of tails per wing, not in total. Like other Tiger Swallowtails, this species is yellow with black stripes, creating a visual resemblance to the great jungle cat. The thin black stripes are longest near the body and get progressively shorter toward the tips of the wings. The hindwings are scalloped and imbued with shades of iridescent blue and burnt orange at the center line. A long and short tail flank the bottom edge of each hindwing. The Two-tailed Swallowtail is one of the biggest butterflies found in the western part of the continent.

Caterpillars have yellow faces and are fleshy and green when young. They are wider at the head and neck than at the rear. Small eyespots behind the head are followed by a white and black collar. Tiny light blue/lavender dots ring the segment before the collar, but there are more on the third through sixth segments after the collar. Caterpillars of this species are usually found eating the leaves of chokcherry, hoptree, and ash trees.

Adults are found near water sources like streams and creeks. They drink flower nectar and can be spotted on blossoms as well as in flight. They are active spring through autumn. Look for them in canyons, woodlands, and areas with moving water.




General Characteristics
Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon
Patterned insect icon
Striped or banded insect icon




Taxonomic Hierarchy
Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Lepidoptera
        Family: Papilionidae
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          Genus: Papilio
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            Species: multicaudata
Identifying Information
Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Papilio multicaudata
Category: Butterfly or Moth
Size (Adult; Length): 90mm to 127mm (3.54" to 5.00")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: yellow, black, blue, orange
Descriptors: four, tails, two, stripes, lines, smudge, tiger, flying, spotted, eyes
Relative Size Comparison
Typical Range Between 90mm and 127mm
Lo: 90mm
Md: 108.5mm
Hi: 127mm
Territorial Map*
U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Alaska  
Hawaii  
Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Two-tailed Swallowtail may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Two-tailed Swallowtail. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.

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