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Publication #EENY-060

Palamedes Swallowtail, Laurel Swallowtail, Papilio palamedes (Drury) (Insecta: Lepidoptera: Papilionidae)1

Donald W. Hall and Jerry F. Butler2


The palamedes swallowtail is a large, dark swallowtail butterfly marked with yellow spots and bands. It is particularly common in and near swampy woods.


The palamedes swallowtail is found in the coastal plains of the southeastern states from Virginia to Louisiana. Strays have been found in Cuba and as far north as Nebraska and New York.


The wingspread range is 4 7/16–5 1/8 inches (112–132 mm) (Opler and Malikul 1992). The upper surface of the wings is black with yellow markings. The front wing has a double row of yellow spots on the distal one third. The hind wing has a marginal row of yellow spots and a submarginal yellow band. The tails may have a yellow stripe down the middle.

Figure 1. 

Adult palamedes swallowtail, Papilio palamedes (Drury).

Credit: Jerry F. Butler, University of Florida
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Eggs are pale yellow-green. Older larvae are green with a pale yellow lateral line edged beneath with a fine black line. The underside of the larva is pinkish-brown. Abdominal segments have a transverse band of six blue dots with each dot ringed by a fine black line (much thinner than those on larvae of the spicebush swallowtail, Papilio troilus). One dot on each side is beneath the lateral line. There are a pair of large, tan, false eyespots lined with black on the rear of the thorax. The eyespots have a large black center and a white "false reflection" above. Larvae also have a smaller pair of tan spots at the front of the abdomen. Pupae are green with a white lateral line edged above with a purple-brown line. Pupae have two short horns.

Figure 2. 

Full grown larva of palamedes swallowtail, Papilio palamedes (Drury).

Credit: Jerry F. Butler, University of Florida
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Figure 3. 

Pupa of palamedes swallowtail, Papilio palamedes (Drury).

Credit: Jerry F. Butler, University of Florida
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Life Cycle

There are several flights in Virginia (May–September) and many flights in Florida from March to December. The host plants are primarily species of Persea (Lauraceae) (particularly redbay, Persea borbonia (L.) and swampbay, Persea palustris (Raf.) Sarg.). Several other Lauraceae are listed as occasional hosts including Sassafras albidum (Nutt.) Nees. Sweetbay, Magnolia virginiana L., is also listed as a host, but in laboratory studies, larvae refused to eat it.

Figure 4. 

Redbay, Persea borbonia (L.).

Credit: Donald W. Hall, University of Florida
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Eggs are laid singly on host plants, and larvae eat foliage. Larvae spin a silk mat on a leaf, which contracts to curl the leaf upward. They rest on the silk mat. Pupae hibernate. Males patrol wooded areas in search of females. Adults feed on nectar from a variety of flowers with a particular fondness for thistles. Adults also sip water and minerals at mud.

Selected References

Glassberg J, Minno MC, Calhoun JV. 2000. Butterflies Through Binoculars: A Field, Finding, and Gardening Guide to Butterflies in Florida. Oxford University Press. New York. 242 pp.

Minno MC, Butler JF, Hall DW. 2005. Florida Butterfly Caterpillars and their Host Plants. University Press of Florida. Gainesville, Florida. 341 pp.

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

Opler 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 (editors). 1995. Swallowtail Butterflies: Their Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Scientific Publishers, Inc. Gainesville, FL.

Wagner DL. 2005. Caterpillars of Eastern North America. Princeton University Press. Princeton, New Jersey. 512 pp.



This document is EENY-060, one of a series of the Department of Entomology and Nematology, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date August 1998. Revised August 2010, August 2013, and August 2016. Visit the EDIS website at This document is also available on the Featured Creatures website at


Donald W. Hall, professor; and Jerry F. Butler, professor; Department of Entomology and Nematology, 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.