San Diego Natural History Museum--Your Nature ConnectionSDNHM Field Guide

Papilio zelicaon
Anise Swallowtail

Family: PAPILIONIDAE (Swallowtail Butterflies)


The Anise Swallowtail is a large butterfly with a wing span of 3 - 3 1/8 inches. Black and yellow, it can be distinguished from similar species by its lack of a "tiger stripe" on the upper forewing and slightly smaller size.

Range and Habitat

This butterfly can be found throughout the western states, British Columbia and Alberta, but is not regularly found in the lower deserts of California, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico. In our region it is found in urban, agricultural, coastal sage scrub and chaparral habitats.

Natural History

Anise swallowtails are quick high fliers and are known to hilltop. Females lay their basketball shaped eggs singly on plants in the Apiaceae family. First and second instar caterpillars are mostly black and may resemble bird droppings. The caterpillars in their later instars obtain a relatively large size and are quite striking -- light green with orange dots. To defend themselves they use osmateria, fleshy orange filaments, that project from just behind the head and smell terrible. They overwinter as a chrysalis (pupa).

Related or Similar Species

Giant Swallowtail, Tiger Swallowtail

 Anise Swallowtail, photo by Bob Parks

Papilionidae: Swallowtails
Represented by approximately 560 species this group of butterflies is a favorite among butterfly enthusiasts including collectors and photographers. Adults are medium to large with many having "tails" extending from their hind wing. Common colors are black with yellow highlights. They have 3 pairs of walking legs. Most swallowtails overwinter as chrysalises and may spend several years as a pupa before completing their metamorphosis. These high flying butterflies' larvae feed on the citrus, carrot and Aristilochia families.

Text by Christian Manion.
Photo by Bob Parks.

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