Old World Swallowtail

(Papilio machaon)


Old World Swallowtail IUCN NOT EVALUATED (NE)


Facts about this animal

The Old World Swallowtail has a wing span of 50-100 mm. Body and wings are patterned in black and yellow. Hind wings also have one red and six blue spots each. The underside is somewhat paler in colour. Each hind wing has one tail. Many forms and local subspecies have been described. The relatively large compound eyes are the most important sensitive organ of the Old World Swallowtail for orientation. The quality of flowers and food plants is recognized with the feet.

Caterpillars are naked and up to 45 mm long (41). In the last two of the four instars they are green with black transversal bands carrying 6 rows of reddish spots. Young caterpillars look like bird droppings which is a good camouflage. To defend themselves the larvae can protrude an orange, fleshy, smelling fork behind their heads called osmeterium.

Adults sip nectar with their proboscis while caterpillars feed on a variety of umbellifers (in Eurasia), compositae (in Siberia and North America) and a few other plants consuming the leaves and flowers.

The Old World Swallowtail has 1-5 broods in a year depending on how fast the ambient temperature allows them to develop, thus it flies from June to August in the north and from February to November in the south. Adults perform hill-topping i.e. at noon they frequent hilltops to find their partners. The spherical yellow eggs are laid singly on the food plant. The caterpillars hatch after around one week. The brown, beige or green chrysalis is attached to the substrate with a silken belt. It is the only stage to hibernate.

Some subspecies of the Old World Swallowtail like the European P. m. gorganus may be migratory.

Did you know?
that the Old World Swallowtail, although a rather common species, is protected by law in Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, United Kingdom and India? that the colourful hue of butterflies is made of numerous, small, pigmented or structured scales covering body and wings? that in butterflies males have XX-sex chromosomes while females have XY, which is the opposite what humans have?


Name (Scientific) Papilio machaon
Name (English) Old World Swallowtail
Name (French) Machaon, Grand Port-queue
Name (German) Schwalbenschwanz
Name (Spanish) Macaón
Local names Croatian: Lastin rep
Czech: Otakárek fenyklový
Danish: Svalehale
Dutch: Koninginnnenpage
Finnish: Ritariperhonen
Hungarian: Fecskefarkú lepke
Italian: Macaone
Norwegian: Svalestjert
Polish: Paz królowej
Portuguese: Borboleta Cauda de Andorinha
Swedish: Makaonfjäril
CITES Status Not listed
CMS Status Not listed



Photo Copyright by
Thomas Bresson



Range Largely distributed on the northern hemisphere in North America, Europe, northwestern Africa and Asia; in Alaska, Canada and the USA, from Europe (rare and local in England) through Russia to China and Japan, in Asia south to northern Myanmar and Yemen.
Habitat In open country preferably on meadows (confined to wetlands in England) also in the arctic tundra; from sea level up to 2,000 m (4,800 m in the Himalayas).
Wild population Usually uncommon throughout its range but common in some regions; Red Listed in Germany, Austria, South Korea and former Soviet Union; some subspecies may be critical e.g. P. m. britannicus in England
Zoo population 0 reported to ISIS (2008)

In the Zoo

Old World Swallowtail


How this animal should be transported

Adults, caterpillars, chrysalis and eggs can be transported in plastic tanks of less than 1 l. Heating and exposure to sunlight should be avoided and containers should preferably be transported in a cold box.


Find this animal on ZooLex


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Why do zoos keep this animal

In Europe, the Old World Swallowtail is the largest butterfly species. It is easily recognized and can, therefore, serve as an ambassador species for nature conservancy projects dealing with butterflies or insects. Conservation breeding programs can be carried out where the species is critical in its natural habitat. Butterflies are sensitive to changes in environment, and are therefore good bio-indicators. Caterpillars and chrysalis are good objects in education in order to demonstrate insect metamorphosis. Additionally, the adult butterfly will show plant-insect interaction by pollinating flowers.