All About Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies and Caterpillars

Find out what eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies and their caterpillars look like and the best host plants to attract them.

An eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly visiting a yellow and pink lantana flower.Courtesy Brenda Johnson
Eastern swallowtail butterfly on lantana flowers

These big, yellow butterflies are common in the eastern United States and a treat to spot in the garden. Here’s how to identify an Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly and attract them to your own backyard.

What Does an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly Look Like?

These butterflies are not dainty. Adults have a wingspan as small as 3 inches, but they can grow up to 5 1/2 inches across. Adults have four black parallel stripes at the top of each wing and a solid black stripe along base. Female Eastern swallowtails tend to have more blue on the hindwings than the males. A dark form looks similar to a pipevine swallowtail.

Where Can I Find Eastern Tiger Swallowtails?

Look for Eastern tiger swallowtails from the East Coast to the Great Plains. They’re often spotted in parks, suburbs, forests and fields. There are six other common swallowtail butterflies that also live in North America.

eastern tiger swallowtail on lilac bushCourtesy Diana Glawson
Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly on a lilac bush

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Host Plants

Adult butterflies sip the nectar of milkweed, Joe Pye weed, wild cherry and lilac, while caterpillars happily eat wild cherry, tulip tree, cottonwood, sweetbay, willow and white ash. Grow these butterfly host plants to attract pollinators.

An eastern tiger swallowtail sitting on a leaf.Courtesy Trisha Snider
Eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillar

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillars

Eastern swallowtail caterpillars are green with large yellow and black decoy eyespots. They also have orange “horns” they can extend when they feel threatened. Learn how to plant a caterpillar cafe in your butterfly garden.

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Molly Jasinski
Molly Jasinski is a writer, editor and social media manager for Birds & Blooms. She enjoys watching the robins, cardinals and occasional goldfinch seen around her apartment.