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Western Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio rutulus)

Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Western Tiger Swallowtail

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Image Credit: Tom V., taken in Spokane, WA
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The Western Tiger Swallowtail has all the hallmarks of its genus and comfortably resides between the Pacific Ocean and the Rocky Mountains.

Updated: 06/28/2023; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
Like all Tiger Swallowtails, the Western Tiger Swallowtail is yellow with long, black stripes on its forewings, resembling that familiar pattern seen on tigers. The stripes closest to the body are darker and thicker than its Eastern and Canadian counterparts. Each hindwing has only one tail extension, unlike its relative, the Two-Tailed Tiger Swallowtail. These delicate tails may break or wear off over time. An orange eyespot in a field of blue sits at the bottom of the hindwings and is visible when the wings are open flat. A thick black band runs closely along the bottom of the forewings.

This species of Swallowtail is widespread in its region, living in various habitats from coastal areas to mountainous elevation. Up to 4 broods can be produced each year, securing its presence. The fleshy green caterpillar has a yellow and black collar by its head on a bulging, wide part of its body. Blue dots form a ring above this collar and also circle segments on the body. Two elongated eyespots are near the head. Each consists of a smaller, inner yellow spot usually connected by a blue block to a larger outer eyespot with black and blue pupils. Larvae feed on leaves of cottonwood, birch, ash, alder, aspen, willow, and other trees common to the region. Adults drink nectar and can be found flying all summer long. In warmer coastal areas, they may be seen most of the year. Because host trees grow in many habitats, Western Tiger Swallowtails can be seen as frequently in backyards as they are on remote hiking trails.©InsectIdentification.org

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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: rutulus

Identifying Information

Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Papilio rutulus
Category: Butterfly or Moth
Size (Adult; Length): 90mm to 110mm (3.54" to 4.33")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: yellow; black; blue; orange; white
Descriptors: stripes; eyespot; tails; flying

Relative Size Comparison

Typical Size Between 90mm (3.5in) and 110mm (4.3in)
Lo: 90mm
Md: 100mm
Hi: 110mm

Territorial Map*

U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Western Tiger 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 Western Tiger Swallowtail. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.
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