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Swallowtail Butterflies

Family Papilionidae

(Swallowtail, Papilios)

German Vega Entomologist, National Museum

ImageThese species of butterflies are from medium to large, that is, from 6 cm (2.36 in.) to 12 cm (4.72 in.) wingspan and their legs are generally large and well-developed. Their wings are proportionally too large for their body. They are characterized by their strong and quick flutter. When they stand on flowers, their wings are kept half-open and in continuous vibration.

Some of the plants they use to lay their eggs are the citrus ( Rutaceae ), avocado ( Lauraceae ), celery ( Apiaceae ), peppers ( Piperaceae ), and birthworts ( Aristolochiaceae ). Their larvae are easily identifiable because they have some reversible glands on the back of their heads and eject a substance of unpleasant smell to scare predators away.

This is a very common family in Costa Rica. Forty species have been reported distributed in all kinds of habitats, from sea level up to 2,800 m (9,186 ft.). They are usually called swallowtail butterflies because of the resemblance of their forked tails to swallows'. Such tails have the purpose of misleading a predator that might feel attracted and bite them, staying, then, away from vital body parts.

Some examples of this family are:

ImageParides iphidamas iphidamas
(Fabricius, 1793). Hosting plant: Aristolochia maxima (Florida dutchman's pipe). It can be found in open areas on forest boundaries, home gardens, parks and other habitats with adequate plants to lay its eggs and suck their nectar, such as buzzy lizzy ( Impatiens walleriana ), light-blue snakeweed ( Stachytarpheta jamaicensis ), and largeleaf lantana ( Lantana camara ). Some places where they have been reported from are Jicotea from Turrialba (1,100 m -3,609 ft.), San Ramon Forestry Reserve (1,160 m. -3,806 ft.), Braulio Carrillo National Park (730 m. –2,395 ft.), Corcovado National Park (50 m. -164 ft.), El Rodeo in Ciudad Colon (800 m. -2,625 ft.) and Santa Rosa National Park (200 m. -656 ft.).


Papilio thoas nealces
(Rothschild and Jordan, 1906). Hosting plants: Citrus spp . (orange, lemon, and tangerine), Xanthoxylum spp (pricklyash). They can be seen flying in a winding motion on sunny days along with other species of butterflies by rural roads nearby secondary or altered forests. They visit the same flowers as Parides iphidamas , but they have been seen also on wax mallow ( Malvaviscus palmatus ) flowers, dwarf poinciana ( Caesalpinia pulcherrima ), and bloodflower ( Asclepias curassavica ). Males also go by river sides to absorb minerals dissolved in water as a diet supplement, which, according to researchers, could be necessary in courtship. Some locations where they have been reported are Telire river in Valle La Estrella, Limon (400 m. -1,312 ft), Santa Rosa National Park, Horquetas from Sarapiqui, Corinto river in Guapiles, Jaris river (600 m. -1,968 ft.) in Ciudad Colon, Naranjillo in San Marcos, Tarrazu (800 m. -2,625 ft.), and in Manuel Antonio National Park (50 m. -164 ft.).

Eurytides protesilaus dariensis
(Rothschild and Jordan, 1906). Hosting plant: Anona spp . (annona). Their long tails, as their peers', are the reason for their common name “swallowtail Image butterflies.” In summer, males can be seen flying on open areas and over river flows and lying occasionally on the shores. They stop on white indigoberry flowers ( Randia aculeate ) and crotons ( Croton draco ). Some locations where they have been seen are Rio Negro in San Vito, Coto Brus, in Corcovado National Park (0 m.), in La Virgen, Sarapiqui (500 m. -1,640 ft.), in Hacienda Santa Maria, Guanacaste, and in Quebrada Honda river in Ciudad Colon (700 m. -2,297 ft.).

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