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Publication #EENY-058

Zebra Swallowtail, Pawpaw Butterfly, Kite Swallowtail, Ajax Eurytides marcellus (Cramer) (Insecta: Lepidoptera: Papilionidae)1

Donald W. Hall and Jerry F. Butler2


The zebra swallowtail, Eurytides marcellus (Cramer), is our only native kite swallowtail (tribe Leptocircini [=Graphiini]). Two other species rarely stray into Texas and Florida. The zebra swallowtail is one of our most beautiful swallowtails. Unlike most of our other native swallowtails, they are not involved in a mimicry complex. The zebra swallowtail has also been called the pawpaw butterfly, kite swallowtail, and ajax.


The zebra swallowtail is widely distributed from southern New England west to southern Minnesota and south to eastern Texas and Florida.


The wingspread of males is 2 ½–4 inches (64–104 mm) (Opler and Malikul 1992). The upper surface of the wings is white with black stripes. The hindwings have very long tails. The zebra swallowtail exhibits seasonal dimorphism. Early spring specimens are lighter in color, smaller, and have tails only about half as long as summer forms.

Figure 1. 

Adult summer form of the zebra swallowtail, Eurytides marcellus (Cramer).


Jerry F. Butler, UF/IFAS

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Eggs are pale green. Young larvae are dark colored with many transverse black, yellow, and white bands. Older larvae are green with broad blue, black, and yellow transverse bands between the thorax, abdomen and usually yellow bands between abdominal segments, and numerous fine transverse black lines on thorax and abdomen. However, larvae exhibit color polymorphism. The osmeterium is yellow. Pupae are green or brown with light lines simulating a leaf-like texture and are supported with a silken girdle.

Figure 2. 

Young larva of zebra swallowtail, Eurytides marcellus (Cramer), in Asimina angustifolia Raf. flower.


Jerry F. Butler, UF/IFAS

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Figure 3. 

Full-grown larva of zebra swallowtail, Eurytides marcellus (Cramer), with osmeterium extruded.


Jerry F. Butler, UF/IFAS

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Figure 4. 

Pupa of zebra swallowtail, Eurytides marcellus (Cramer).


Jerry F. Butler, UF/IFAS

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Life Cycle

There are two flights in the north and many flights in Florida from March to December. Males patrol for females in the vicinity of host plants, and females frequently may be observed ovipositing on host foliage. Adults seek nectar at a variety of flowers and also obtain moisture from mud.

Females select plants with young leaves for oviposition. Eggs are laid singly on the young leaves, and larvae feed on foliage (and flowers when available). This requirement for new leaves may limit reproduction of E. marcellus in summer and fall. Production of new leaves is often stimulated during this period by defoliation of the host plant by the pyralid moth, Omphalocera munroei Martin. Therefore, abundance of late flights of E. marcellus may be dependent on the abundance of this moth.

Larvae have an extrusible osmeterium that is coated with strongly smelling chemicals (isobutyric and 2-methyl butyric acids). When disturbed, they extrude the osmeterium and smear the offender with the chemicals. This has been shown to be an effective defense against small ants and spiders, but not against most other predators. Osmeterial defense is also ineffective against the ichneumonid parasitoid of papilionids, Trogus pennator (Fabricius), which does not trigger extrusion of the osmeterium with its attacks. Other defensive measures utilized by the larvae are to drop off the host plant when disturbed by a potential predator and, for third, fourth, and fifth instar larvae, to rest off the plant in leaf litter when not feeding.

Pupation usually occurs on the under sides of leaves of the host plant. Some pupae of each flight overwinter. Short photoperiod produces diapausing pupae that hibernate.

Natural Enemies

In addition to the generalist predators that prey on Lepidoptera larvae, there are at least two ichneumonid parasitoids listed from Eurytides marcellus larvae.

Table 1. 

Parasitoids listed from Eurytides marcellus (Krombein et al. 1979)

Itoplectis conquisitor (Say) (Ichneumonidae), p. 340

Trogus pennator (Fabricius) (Ichneumonidae), p. 539


The host plants are Asimina species (pawpaws) (Annonaceae). Throughout most of the range of the zebra swallowtail, Asimina triloba (L.) Dunal is the only host. In the southeast US, a variety of other Asimina species are utilized.

Figure 5. 

The slimleaf pawpaw, Asimina angustifolia Raf. (Annonaceae) is a commonly-used host in central Florida for the zebra swallowtail, Eurytides marcellus (Cramer).


Donald W. Hall, UF/IFAS

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Figure 6. 

Smallflower pawpaw, Asimina parviflora (Michx.) Dunal (Annonaceae), a larval host for the zebra swallowtail, Eurytides marcellus (Cramer).


Donald W. Hall, UF/IFAS

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Figure 7. 

Common pawpaw, Asimina triloba (L.) Dunal (Annonaceae), is a larval host for the zebra swallowtail, Eurytides marcellus (Cramer).


Donald W. Hall, UF/IFAS

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Selected References

Damman H. 1989. Facilitative interactions between two lepidopteran herbivores of Asimina. Oecologia 78: 214–219.

Damman H. 1986. The osmeterial glands of the swallowtail butterfly Eurytides marcellus as a defense against natural enemies. Ecological Entomology 11: 261–265.

Damman H, Feeny P. 1988. Mechanisms and consequences of selective oviposition by the zebra swallowtail butterfly. Animal Behaviour 36: 563–573.

Daniels JC. 2000. Butterflies 2: Butterflies of the Southeast. UF/IFAS. Card Set. SP 274.

Eisner T, Pliske TE, Ikeda M, Owen DF, Vásquez L, Pérez HP, Franclemont JG, Meinwold J. 1970. Defense mechanisms of arthropods. XXVII. Osmeterial secretions of papilionid caterpillars (Baronia, Papilio, Eurytides). Annals of the Entomological Society of America 63: 914–915.

Gerberg EJ, Arnett RH. 1989. Florida Butterflies. National Science Publications, Inc. Baltimore, MD.

Hazel WN, West DA. 1983. The effect of larval photoperiod on pupal colour and diapause in swallowtail butterflies. Ecological Entomology 8: 37–42.

Hilton HO, Heppner JB. 1995. Zebra swallowtail (Eurytides marcellus) life history (Lepidoptera: Papilionidae). Holarctic Lepidoptera 2: 57–58.

Krombein KV, Hurd Jr.PD, Smith DR, Burks BD. 1979. Catalog of Hymenoptera in America North of Mexico. Volume 1. Symphyta and Apocrita (Parasitica). Smithsonian Institution Press. Washington, D.C. 1198 pp.

Mather B. 1970. Variation of Graphium marcellus in Mississippi (Papilionidae). Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society 24: 176–189.

Medley JC, Fasulo TR. (1998). Florida Butterfly Tutorials. University of Florida/IFAS. CD-ROM. SW 155.

Miller JY. 1992. The Common Names of North American Butterflies. Smithsonian Institution Press. Washington, D.C.

Oppler PA, Krizek GO. 1984. Butterflies East of the Great Plains. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore, MD.

Opler PA, Malikul V. 1992. A Field Guide to Eastern Butterflies (Peterson Field Guide Series). Houghton Mifflin Company. New York, N.Y. 486 pp.

Scott JA. 1986. The Butterflies of North America. Stanford University Press. Stanford, CA.

Scriber JM, Tsubaki Y, Lederhouse RC, Eds. 1995. Swallowtail Butterflies: Their Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Scientific Publishers, Inc. Gainesville, FL.

Tyler H, Brown KS Jr, Wilson K. 1994. Swallowtail Butterflies of the Americas. Scientific Publishers, Inc. Gainesville, FL.

West DA, Hazel WN. 1996. Natural pupation sites of three North American swallowtail butterflies: Eurytides marcellus (Cramer), Papilio cresphontes Cramer, and P. troilus L. (Papilionidae). Journal of the Lepidopterists' Society 50: 297–302.



This document is EENY-058, one of a series of the Entomology and Nematology Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date August 1998. Revised August 2010, September 2011, September 2014, and August 2016. Reviewed November 2019. Visit the EDIS website at for the currently supported version of this publication. This document is also available on the Featured Creatures website at


Donald W. Hall, professor emeritus; and Jerry F. Butler, professor emeritus, Entomology and Nematology Department; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.