All About Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies and Caterpillars

Updated: Jun. 28, 2023

Find out what an eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly and caterpillar looks like and the best host plants to attract them.

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.

Learn how to attract a giant swallowtail butterfly.

What Does an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly Look Like?

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

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.

  • Thin yellow and black body
  • Black and yellow tiger stripes on wings (on some females, black with shadow stripes)
  • Wingspan ranges from 3½ to 5 inches
  • Blue marking near the bottom of the tail (females have more blue spots)
  • Signature three-lobed hindwings

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 live in North America.

Host Plants

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

Adult butterflies sip the nectar of milkweed, Joe Pye weed, wild cherry and lilac. Caterpillars happily eat wild cherry, tulip tree, cottonwood, sweetbay, willow and white ash.

Grow these butterfly host plants to attract pollinators.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillars

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

Eastern swallowtail caterpillars are green with large yellow and black decoy eyespots. They also have orange “horns” they can extend when they feel threatened.

Discover fascinating caterpillar facts you should know.

Other Types of Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies

Western Tiger Swallowtail On Spirea Flowersrandimal/iStock
Western tiger swallowtail butterfly

Eastern, western and Canadian tiger swallowtail butterflies look almost identical, but the latter two are smaller. Use geography to tell them apart. Western tigers are found from the Rocky Mountains westward; eastern tigers from the Great Plains eastward; and Canadian tigers in central New England, New York, Michigan, Minnesota and Montana, and northward.

Next, discover what a monarch caterpillar looks like.