Alberta, Canada
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Swallowtail Family
Papilionidae
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General Description

By Nora Bryan

The Swallowtails are the largest and most easily recognized butterflies. Itís no wonder that butterflies capture the imagination of nature lovers more than any otherr group of insects. There are five species of these distinctively tailed beauties that can be found in Alberta.

The Swallowtails are large and yellow with black veins and patches. There are some blue and orange spots near the distinctive hind wing tails. Sometimes, females of some species will be mostly black.

The equally distinctive caterpillars start out life looking more like bird droppings than anything else. As they mature, they become large and green with a swollen front end that often has a pair of eyespots, giving the distinctive caterpillars a snakelike appearance. Even though large, they are well camouflaged in the trees that they feed on. In some species or subspecies the caterpillars may be striped green, white and black, somewhat like that of a Monarch. Swallowtail caterpillars have a distinctive protective mechanism called an osmaterium. This yellow forklike gland, when everted (extended from within) has a very disagreeable odor - enough to put a would-be predator off its appetite. When the caterpillars are ready to pupate, they drop from the tree and often conveniently turn brown to match the leaf litter on the forest floor.

Although distinctive, the many subspecies and interspecific hybrids of this group can be a challenge to sort out.

There are two species (one very rare) of the related, but plainer Parnassians that can be found only in the southwest mountains of the Province. These mountain dwellers look a bit like Whites at first glance but are larger and more translucent. The black wing bases help these cold-climate butterflies heat up more quickly in the sun.

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Where to find Swallowtails in Alberta   

There is currently no information regarding this species in our Where & When database.

Swallowtail Family Behaviour   

No observations regarding Swallowtail Family behavior have been submitted to the database yet.

Interesting Facts about Swallowtails   

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Swallowtail Family Stories from our Readers   

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Recent Swallowtail Family Reports in Alberta


No. Location Reporter Date
1 Town of Brooks round 2011/07/29
15 Alberta SW round 2011/07/15
1 Fairview Escarpment Blake 2011/07/13
1 Oriole Park Blake 2011/05/29
2 County of Camrose No. 22 Blake 2010/06/20

Swallowtail Family Hotspots in Alberta

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