Photo gallery of our female two-tailed tiger swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata) that eclosed from a pupa originated from Arizona.
Papilio multicaudata is perhaps the most treasured of all the tiger swallowtails (Pterourus group) due to its sparse distribution in much of its range (especially in urban settings), enormous size (NA's largest butterfly), and unique three tails. Not too many lepidopterists get a chance to witness its beauty, let alone get a hold of it - we certainly won't in a long time. Thus, we made sure to get plenty of photos of this stunning butterfly to make its image last.
Here are a few photos of the P. multicaudata female posed next to a P. zelicaon male that also eclosed today for comparison. P. zelicaon is a machaon group swallowtail that is normally the most common Papilio around here.
Our fourth and final two-tailed swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata) has eclosed into a female adult from a pupa originating from Arizona.
At last, after a week of observing our Papilio multicaudata pupa develop and become pharate, a stunning female butterfly eclosed. Temperatures were relatively warm (low 60s) today for how cold it has been lately, and it hasn't rained in the past few days, so the timing of the eclosion is pretty good. Unfortunately, we missed the actual emergence which took place around 4:00 PM and it has already almost fully expanded its wings by the time we realized it was out.
We took a few photos of it then and another when it was done, all of which are lateral view with closed wings. No opened wing shots since the wings weren't fully hardened and there was no sunlight to encourage it to open them, but we'll make sure to get plenty tomorrow. We also took some close-ups of the wing scales which look truly amazing up close.
Though there are no opened wing shots, you can see that multicaudata looks more or less just like any other of the familiar tiger swallowtails (Pterourus group), with a pale yellow ground color patterned with black stripes, a black postdiscal band spotted in blue, and orange spots on the hindwing tips. However, compared to other Pterourus swallowtails, multicaudauta has a thinner black pattern and stripes, giving it a "yellower" look and has three tails (not two, despite its common name) rather than just one. It is also the largest tiger swallowtail; this particular individual has a wingspan of about 12 cm (~5 inches) and its pupal weight was 2.7 g.
Rearing notes for our fourth and final two-tailed swallowtail chrysalis (Papilio multicaudata) from a batch of four originating from Arizona.
Rearing Notes 3/2/17-3/7/17:
Our fourth and final two-tailed swallowtail chrysalis (Papilio multicaudata) from a batch of four originating from Arizona has broken diapause and will eclose soon.
Back in August, we obtained four P. multicaudata pupa (six, but two died in eclosed in shipment) originating from Arizona of which the first eclosed crippled on 8/22/16 and the second and third diapaused and eclosed 11/23/16 and 11/26/16. That left us with a single chrysalis that was still in diapause until recently, about a month ago, we noticed in began to twitch its abdomen occasionally when disturbed which we assumed meant it had broken diapause. Apparently we were correct as yesterday we noticed the pupa's wing cases were beginning to develop orange color with black streaks meaning it is close to eclosion. By today, the colors had darkened slightly; below are some photos taken today.
Rearing notes for our two two-tailed swallowtails (Papilio mauticaudata) that emerged from chrysalises that were in diapause when first received in August from Arizona.
Rearing notes 11/24/16-11/27/16:
The first of our two post-diapause two-tailed swallowtail chrysalises (Papilio multicaudata) has eclosed. The chrysalises were received in diapause in August from Arizona but must have broken diapause in mid-October.
Today we witnessed our first ever real life two-tailed swallowtail. Emerging around 2 PM on this relatively sunny afternoon, this gigantic butterfly is this largest we have seen in our life.
A rough measurement of this individual (a female) was about 5.5 inches. It came from our largest chrysalis which was 2.9 grams before it emerged (that is very massive!). This is larger than any Eastern tiger (Papilio glaucus) or giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes), two of the more well known large swallowtails, that we have seen. Although Papilio multicaudata is much less frequently mentioned as being the largest swallowtail in North America, we wouldn't have our doubts even with our small sample size.
Compared to the Western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus), the two-tailed swallowtail comes off as being a much more yellow insect since the black stripes on the dorsal side are much less thick in proportion to the yellow portions. P. rutulus actually resembles the anise swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) quite closely because of its smaller size and higher concentrations of black, but on the other hand you would never mistake a two-tailed swallowtail for an anise! However, the black borders on the edges are the wings seem quite thick and the black stripes on the ventral sides of the wings don't seem to be any less thick than those of P. rutulus.
After its wings had hardened, we took it outside and took a few pictures. . .
This butterfly doesn't actually have two tails as the name suggests. The scientific name multicaudata is probably more accurate; a quick glance tells us that it actually has four sets of tails. In reality, it only has one true pair, the one seen in most swallowtails, which is much longer than the other three pairs. But because of its overall large wing size, the points at the vein lines on the hind wings (seen in all swallowtails) have been much exaggerated that they are long enough to look like they are tails.
As for breeding these things, we are in a very bad situation as of now. The other chrysalis that has been developing doesn't look like it is going to emerge for another few days, and assuming that it is a male we would have to wait another few days for his sperm count to rise before attempting to hand-pair him with the female that eclosed today. If we can get past the hand-pairing, we will need to find a host plant to try to get the female to lay her eggs on, which will probably prove to be a very difficult task in December. We currently don't really have any of multicaudata's host plants like Prunus virginiana and Fraxinus, and even if we did we would have a hard time finding leaves in this season. Of our two potential options, Klamath plum (Prunus subcordata) and privet (Ligustrum lucidum), the former may be ruled out based on the fact that some studies state that multicaudata is actually selective within the Rosaceae family and will only lay on a few species of Prunus. Privet is evergreen, but it too is highly questionable as a host; it has not been reportedly extensively as a host plant in literature and the only fact backing up the plausibility that it is indeed a potential host is that it is loosely related to Fraxinus (they are in the same family). Then, even if we manage to scrape up something, we would need to provide a warm enough environment to stimulate any activity. It is only about 60 degrees Fahrenheit these days and is only going to get colder in the coming weeks, so this would obviously require a heating system such as a reptile heat lamp.
Rearing notes for our three remaining Two-tailed Swallowtail chrysalises (Papilio mauticaudatus). They were in diapause when first received in August from Arizona.
Rearing Notes 11/20/16-11/22/16:
Recently we have been taking note of a series of odd ecological occurrences hinting that nature has been tricked into an second or early spring.
Starting all the way back in October, we first noticed that some of our anise swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) chrysalises weren't diapausing. However, the weather was still warm and the highly multivoltine species is known to fly quite late in our region, so this occurrence was still in the scope of what was normal.
But, later we started noticing a few chrysalises that already had been diapausing start to eclose for no apparent reason. For example, three chrysalises that had been diapausing for at least a few months decided to come out around 10/13. Then, just recently on 11/10 we had three more males and two females eclose. And on top of that, a male pipevine swallowtail (Battus philenor) from August decided to eclose as well. This is probably the worst time of year to possibly emerge!
Since this year is an El Niño year, these past few weeks we have been having a lot of rain -- a lot more than what we've had in the last few years due to the drought we are having here in California. In addition, the temperature seems to be a bit above average, too. Either of these factors may be responsible for triggering these early eclosions, eclosions that would have normally ocurred in the spring.
Then, we also started noticing some other freak occurrences with the plants. . . With the rain, plants in general were growing wildly, annuals were in bloom, and cherry trees were forming blossoms. In our own yard, our apple tree started flowering and our hibiscus tree began regenerating leaves while it was in the middle of dropping its old ones. Both, of course, are deciduous!
And finally, today we almost jumped when we noticed that two of the three two-tailed swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata) chrysalises we had been keeping since August were almost pharate! We hadn't really been checking on these for a while, so this really caught us off guard. If we hadn't noticed the development today we probably would have left them to emerged crippled in the little tub we were keeping them in!
There is no way that any of these strange occurrences should be happening. But with the longer summer weather we have been seeing in recent years due to what is probably climate change and with the El Niño this year, it isn't too hard to see why this is happening. Either the mild nature of our falls and winter is tricking our wildlife into thinking that we are either having a second spring or next year's spring has come early (and are completely forgetting that they haven't had a winter yet!).
Rearing notes for the four Two-tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata) chrysalises that we obtained from an Arizona breeder.
Rearing Notes 8/25/16-9/??/16:
Our Two-Tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata) chrysalises have arrived from an Arizona breeder.
It is unfortunate that the majestic Two-Tailed Swallowtail (Papilio multicaudata), our largest butterfly (possibly the largest in all of North America in terms of both mass and wing span), is so incredibly rare in its Northern California range. Populations don't even exist in Albany, suburban or natural. Many enthusiasts can't even witness one personally in their entire life.
So our solution? Well, we went ahead and got six of them from an Arizona breeder who presumably sourced them from the wild population as they are fairly common in parts of Arizona. Two of them emerged and perished in transit, one male who had been dead for at least a day and a female that must of emerged only today but was obviously not going to make it with such crippled wings.
The other four were in great condition, shown below. For those who may have seen these before, this may sound inexperienced, but we almost jumped at the enormous size! Of course we knew they were big, but they are truly amazing (they look like logs!). They tower over our Eastern Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio glaucus) and of course our Western Tiger Swallowtails (Papilio rutulus), Anise Swallowtails (Papilio zelicaon), and Pipevine Swallowtails (Battus philenor hirsuta) which we also have on hand right now; they are the larger than any other glaucus group swallowtail, even the huge Appalachian Swallowtail (Papilio appalachiensis). After weighing, the largest of the four came up as 2.9 grams, which is at least twice as big as any of the other species and probably three times as smaller individuals. 2.9 grams is respectable even among moths which can get much heavier than butterflies and we're sure that this probably isn't even close to a record-breaking weight. Putting our Eastern Tigers next to them is certainly embarrassing (bottom right)!
Onto a more serious observation, we believe three are female and only one is male. Already one of the females is slightly soft with slightly departed abdominal segments and will likely eclose within a few days. In order to hand-pair them though, we are counting completely on the single male which still shows no sign of eclosing soon. We will need him to eclose sometime near at least one of the three females.
If we get past this first step, which is completely based on luck at this point, the second step is to hand-pair. This shouldn't be terribly difficult considering that they must have massive genitalia (ha-ha). Step three will be finding a suitable host plant to elicit ovipositing of the gravid female, preferably hop (Ptelea) or ash (Fraxinus), but we have yet to discover either growing in our area so we will probably have to resort to a nursery. The last step -- setting up a proper enclosure and getting the female to actually lay -- is considerably difficult; we're not even sure if we have done it correctly for our gravid Eastern Tiger females right now (they have not laid a thing yet). Failing at any of these four steps will stop us in our hopes of ever obtaining a whole lot of big (6 grams?) green snakes (caterpillars)!
This timeline is a series of daily posts recording our observations on and experiences with various insects in Albany California and surrounding areas, from 2012-2017. Since we did not publish this site until 2016, posts before that were constructed retroactively. Starting in August 2017, we moved to Ithaca, New York; posts from there on can be viewed at Timeline 2017-present: Ithaca, New York.
August 2017 (49)
July 2017 (121)
June 2017 (79)
May 2017 (77)
April 2017 (91)
March 2017 (35)
February 2017 (12)
January 2017 (10)
December 2016 (12)
November 2016 (26)
October 2016 (49)
September 2016 (84)
August 2016 (94)
July 2016 (99)
June 2016 (53)
May 2016 (21)
April 2016 (4)
January 2016 (1)
August 2015 (3)
July 2015 (3)
June 2015 (2)
June 2014 (3)
May 2014 (1)
April 2014 (3)
March 2014 (3)
December 2013 (2)
November 2013 (2)
October 2013 (5)
September 2013 (11)
August 2013 (15)
July 2013 (9)
June 2013 (5)
May 2013 (4)
April 2013 (3)
March 2013 (2)
February 2013 (3)
January 2013 (2)
December 2012 (2)
November 2012 (1)
October 2012 (2)
September 2012 (2)
August 2012 (5)
July 2012 (1)
June 2012 (1)
Full Species List
(Alphabetical by scientific name)
- Not every species we encounter is necessarily presented on this site, rather a selection of those that were of particular interest to us and that we felt were worth documenting.
- We can't guarantee that all species have been identified accurately, particularly taxa we are not as familiar with.
Battus philenor hirsuta
Coenonympha tullia california
Langia zenzeroides formosana
Orthosia hibisci quenquefasciata
Papilio machaon oregonius
Papilio polyxenes asterius
Samia cynthia advena
Papilio glaucus × Papilio rutulus
Papilio polyxenes asterius × Papilio zelicaon
Araneae (Class: Arachnida)