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Zebra Swallowtail

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Zebra Swallowtail

Zebra Swallowtail , (Eurytides marcellus) is our only native kite swallowtail tribe Leptocircini. 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.


Zebra Swallowtail

Zebra Swallowtail


The marcellus is a very unique species with black and white banding patterns on all four wings. The Zebra Swallowtail is not only characterized by its black and white coloration, resembling the stripes on a zebra, but by its long tails also. Spring specimens of early April are small, with short wings, short tails and restricted dark and extensive light markings.


The Zebra Swallowtail is 3.75-4.5 inches in width and 5.0-6.5 inches in height. The later spring and summer specimens, emerging in early June, are much larger with longer wings, somewhat heavier dark markings, and more white on the tail tips. Most Zebra Swallowtails have red spots and red bands of color on lower wing surfaces. The caterpillar feeds on Papaw.


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 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. Therefore, abundance of late flights of 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, 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.


Habitat: Woodlands, forest margins, scrub, waterways, roadsides, and pastures occasionally gardens.


Zebra Swallowtail

Zebra Swallowtail


Facts: They sleep in the same place each night and are such sound sleepers that you can just about go and pick one up. Their wing span averages about three inches. The Zebra butterfly is named for its zebra-like yellow stripes. The female lays her eggs on leaves. Butterflies pass through four stages of development in their life cycle egg, larvae, pupa, and adult. Most butterflies perch and love to bask in the sun. Scientists believe their wings collect sun rays and act as a solar heater. The lifespan of a butterfly is short, from a few days to about 8 months numerous enough to reduce yield.


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