Papilio machaon

Geographic Range

This species of butterfly, Papilio machaon, is found primarily in Europe and Asia, but populations are becoming more scarce and confined. Other regions where Papilio machaon can be found include Canada, Alaska, and California. ("Russian Butterflies", 1997; Carter, 1992; Struttmann, 2004)


Old World swallowtails live in varying habitats that span the world. In a variety of elevations, they find homes in grasslands, hilltops, tundras, forests, mountains, and other temperate areas. Some are even found in subarctic and Arctic areas of the globe. ("Russian Butterflies", 1997; Carter, 1992)

Physical Description

Papilio machaon has a striking coloration of black on top of a yellow base color. There are blue and red spots on the hind wings. A mutation or variation on swallowtails' natural color is the occasional butterfly that displays melanism, a black coloration on the wings, rather than yellow. The are fairly large butterflies compared to most others. Old World swallowtails have two overlapping wings, which create a wing span anywhere from 5.5 - 8 cm in length. Some females even have a fore-wing span that reaches beyond 8.8 cm. (Carter, 1992; Holland, 1907; Maier, 1998)

  • Range wingspan
    5.5 to 8.8 cm
    2.17 to 3.46 in


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. (Burton, 1979; Struttmann, 2004)


Adult swallowtails display hilltopping behavior and use this to identify potential mates. Following mating, females lay their spherically-shaped yellow eggs singly on the milk parsley. The breeding season is sometime in May through July. (Burton, 1979; Sbordoni and Forestiero, 1998; Struttmann, 2004)

  • Breeding season
    May - July

Beyond developing and laying eggs, there is no parental care in this species.

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning


The flight of Old World swallowtails is characterized by the strong flapping of their wings during the months of May and June. The butterflies of the north have one flight sometime in May through July while those of the south have two flights. (Burton, 1979; Sbordoni and Forestiero, 1998; Struttmann, 2004)

Food Habits

In its caterpillar stage, Papilio machaon derives nourishment from its birth place on the milk parsley grown in parts of Europe, or among other various plants, preferrably those of the parsley family. These young caterpillars tend to eat the leaves of their host plant. Once these caterpillars have grown some, they prefer to eat the flowers on these plants. Adult butterflies feed on the nectar of these flowers. (Burton, 1979; Carter, 1992; Struttmann, 2004)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • nectar
  • flowers

Ecosystem Roles

Like all butterflies, Old World swallowtails can be effective pollinators.

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • pollinates

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

This species is very diverse, but has become less and less widespread. Aesthetically, they are unique and are still very rare in collections worldwide. (Holland, 1907)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known or serious adverse affects to humans noted at this time.

Conservation Status

There are no special concerns listed for Old World swallowtails, although it is recognized as rare. Efforts have been made to re-introduce it in some areas of England where it is no longer found. This was unsuccessful but could later be retried. According to the the Nature Conservancy Global Rank, it is a G5, secure globally although rare within its habitats. (Struttmann, 2004)


Matthew Wund (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Marcie Garcia (author), Southwestern University, Stephanie Fabritius (editor), Southwestern University.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature


union of egg and spermatozoan


an animal that mainly eats leaves.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.


a distribution that more or less circles the Arctic, so occurring in both the Nearctic and Palearctic biogeographic regions.

World Map

Found in northern North America and northern Europe or Asia.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


an animal that mainly eats nectar from flowers


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


"many forms." A species is polymorphic if its individuals can be divided into two or more easily recognized groups, based on structure, color, or other similar characteristics. The term only applies when the distinct groups can be found in the same area; graded or clinal variation throughout the range of a species (e.g. a north-to-south decrease in size) is not polymorphism. Polymorphic characteristics may be inherited because the differences have a genetic basis, or they may be the result of environmental influences. We do not consider sexual differences (i.e. sexual dimorphism), seasonal changes (e.g. change in fur color), or age-related changes to be polymorphic. Polymorphism in a local population can be an adaptation to prevent density-dependent predation, where predators preferentially prey on the most common morph.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


offspring are all produced in a single group (litter, clutch, etc.), after which the parent usually dies. Semelparous organisms often only live through a single season/year (or other periodic change in conditions) but may live for many seasons. In both cases reproduction occurs as a single investment of energy in offspring, with no future chance for investment in reproduction.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


A terrestrial biome with low, shrubby or mat-like vegetation found at extremely high latitudes or elevations, near the limit of plant growth. Soils usually subject to permafrost. Plant diversity is typically low and the growing season is short.


1997. "Russian Butterflies" (On-line). Accessed April 17, 2001 at

Burton, J. 1979. The Oxford Book of Insects. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Carter, D. 1992. Butterflies and Moths of the World. New York, New York: Dorling Kindersley, Inc..

Holland, W. 1907. The Butterfly Book. New York, New York:

Maier, M. 1998. "Papilio machaon (LINNAEUS 1758)" (On-line). Accessed April 17, 2001 at

Sbordoni, V., S. Forestiero. 1998. Butterflies of the World. Buffalo, New York: Firefly Books.

Struttmann, J. 2004. "Butterflies of North America" (On-line). Accessed 12/21/04 at