Old World swallowtail (Papilio machaon)

Dmitry Poltavsky - Papilio machaon

Dmitry Poltavsky - Papilio machaon

The Old World swallowtail is a butterfly of the family Papilionidae. The butterfly is also known as the common yellow swallowtail or simply the swallowtail. It is the type species of the genus Papilio and occurs throughout the Palearctic region in Europe and Asia; it also occurs across North America, and thus, is not restricted to the Old World, despite the common name. The butterfly has a strong and fast flight, but frequently pauses to hover over flowering herbs and sip nectar. It frequents alpine meadows and hillsides, and males are fond of Hilltopping, congregating near summits to compete for passing females. Like all butterflies, Old World swallowtails undergo metamorphosis. In 8 to 10 days the eggs hatch into the larvae. The larval stage lasts for about 6-7 weeks, after which the pupal stage begins. Pupation usually occurs in August. This stage is the longest (and most variable) of the butterfly's life cycle lasting anywhere between 2 to 24 weeks. The adult stage is very short, often lasting only a few weeks. After breeding, the butterfly will die and the cycle begins again. The Old World Swallowtail has 1-5 broods in a year depending on how fast the ambient temperature allows them to develop. Caterpillars are naked and up to 45 mm long. Young caterpillars look like bird droppings which is a good camouflage. In the last two of the four instars they are green with black transversal bands carrying 6 rows of reddish spots. To defend themselves the larvae can protrude an orange, fleshy, smelling fork behind their heads called osmeterium. 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 specific epithet machaon refers to Machaon, son of Asclepius in the works of Homer. There are 37 recognized subspecies.