Desert Black Swallowtail

  • Desert Black Swallowtail - adult male
  • Desert Black Swallowtail - larval stage
  • Desert Black Swallowtail and water tower

The Chihuahuan Desert isn’t home to just stinging, biting, and many-legged insects. In the spring and summer, you can also find several butterfly species fluttering to and from wildflowers, feeding on their tasty nectar. One such butterfly is the desert black swallowtail, which is a subspecies of the Papilio polyxenes. The desert black swallowtail is distinctive primarily through the black and yellow patterning on its wings. The span of the upper and underside of the wings are dark blue to black. At the tips of the wings are rows of yellow dots, as well as blue dots on just the hindwings. At the very edge of the hindwing, facing inward, are two reddish-orange eyespots (they have a little black dot in the middle like a pupil). The wingspan of these gorgeous butterflies is about three to four inches long. Black swallowtails produce two generations of offspring per year. The first generation hatches in late spring to early summer, after pupating over the winter. When these butterflies emerge, the females lay their eggs on leaves, which hatch revealing multicolored caterpillars. These summer caterpillars eventually form a chrysalis, pupate for 9–11 days, and emerge as butterflies. This second round of births lay the eggs that will lay dormant through the winter and then hatch the following spring. The black swallowtail caterpillar is known for eating plants in the Apiaceae, or carrot, family. These little insects nibble on Queen Anne’s lace, celery, parsley, carrots, dill, or parsnip–sounds like they have excellent taste!

For this project, create a pair of wings for yourself! Find unusual and colorful materials in and around your home; for example, cardboard, aluminum foil, plastic bags, string, flowers, paper, ribbons, whatever you can find! Begin by developing the structure of your wings and then design the interior pattern or look of the wings. How big will your wings be? Where will they take you when you take flight?

Photos 2-5 courtesy of Dennis Walker.