Papilio machaon — “Old world swallowtail”

Papilio machaon, the old world swallowtail, is a species of swallowtail that occurs in Europe, Africa, Asia and even North America (paradoxally so because  it’s name referring to the “old world”). Like the other species in the machaon-complex, it prefers to lay eggs on Apiaceae plants. It is a medium sized swallowtail that is relatively easy to rear and breed in captivity.

Freshly emerged P.machaon

  • Difficulty rating:  Moderate (Easy for a butterfly but needs more effort than moths)
  • Rearing difficulty: 6/10 (From egg to pupa)
  • Pairing difficulty: 6.5/10 (Archieving copulations)
  • Host plants: Apiaceae (Foeniculum, Anthenum, Pastinaca, Daucus, Petroselinum and many more). Interestingly also Rutaceae in rare cases such as Ruta sp. 
  •  Natural range: Europe, North America, Asia, Russia, Africa
  • Polyphagous:   Yes but probably only on Poaceae
  • Generations: Uni/bivoltine (has one or two generations a year depending on climate, pupae overwinter)
  • Family: Papilionidae (swallowtails)
  • Pupation:  Chrysalis 
  • Prefered climate: Can be found from temperate to  very hot areas
  • Special notes: one of the most widely distributed swallowstails in the world, with many endemic subspecies 

This Papilionid utilised host plants of mainly the parsley family (Apiaceae) – including fennel (Foeniculum), dill (Anthenum), parsnip (Pastinaca), carrot (Daucus), parsley (Petroselinum) and more.  Many of the host plants are considered herbs or vegetables and are widely available for human consumption in grocery stores. Be aware of insecticides/pesticides when using host plant that is commercially grown. Plants from the Ruteacea may also be accepted, like Rue (Ruta graveolens).

The caterpillars start out as predominantly black with a single white stripe, but as they grow they gradually become more colourful. The final instar is green, covered with black stripes and orange dots. They are quite easy to keep in captivity, if one rule is taken into consideration: the caterpillars don’t really tolerate being reared in boxes. They need to be able to free-roam om the host plant. Potted plant is best for this. This applies to all Papilio’s in general: they must be reared freely on a healthy plant.

L4/5 caterpillars feeding 

Papilio machaon overwinters as pupa. The pupae may be green, grey or brown. This specie has usually one generation per year although more may occur if the temperature allows it.

Colour variety in pupae


Underside of P.machaon


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Citations: Coppens, B. (2019); Written by Bart Coppens; based on a real life breeding experience [for citations in literature and publications] 

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3 thoughts on “Papilio machaon — “Old world swallowtail””

  1. Hi There. Do you supply/sell moths butterflies etc.?
    Happy to pay via pay-pal if we can work a happy deal.
    I have all Bio Security forms etc available and for Australia
    and have been operating over 30 years(breeding,selling,protecting,
    teaching etc). Also a professional saxophone musician.(saxman)

    Best regards…..Jim.Moffett


  2. Hola don Luis Antonio ,soy el Dr Carlos Wong , se
    San Jose Costa Rica , quería saber si podía contar con su colaboración para obtener crisálidas de la especie papilio Machaon , dado a que en el paid que resido por tema
    De clima y altura , no tenemos esta especie . Podrías ayudarme a conseguirlo ? Estoy dispuesto a pagar por ejemplar . Voy a intentar contactarle por Whassap . Mi numero es
    506 60181160
    Agradezco su atención y colaboración .

    Enviado desde mi iPhone


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The aim of this website is to provide information about many species of moths and butterflies around the world, with a slight focus on rearing them in captivity.

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