Attract Spicebush Swallowtail Butterflies and Caterpillars

Learn how to identify a spicebush swallowtail butterfly and caterpillar. Plus get tips to attract these pretty pollinators to your own yard.

Seeing a spicebush swallowtail butterfly floating on black, blue and orange spotted wings is a backyard treat. And it’s easier to attract these butterflies (and their caterpillars) than you may think.

See 6 common swallowtail butterflies you should know.

What Does a Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly Look Like?

An adult spicebush swallowtail butterfly about to land on a flower.Courtesy Linda Lapre
An adult spicebush swallowtail butterfly about to land on a flower

Adult spicebush swallowtail butterflies are known for their large, mostly black wings that span 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 inches.

If you’re looking at the butterfly from above, the black wings have large pale spots along the edge. They also have a dusting of color toward the lower part of the wings but above the pale dots. This coloring is blue on females to blue-green on males.

From below, look for a blue spot interrupting rows of orange dots. Spicebush swallowtails look somewhat similar to black swallowtails, but lack the yellow markings.

Learn fascinating swallowtail butterfly facts.

What Does a Spicebush Swallowtail Caterpillar Look Like?

Identify spicebush swallowtail caterpillars by their large eyespots.Courtesy Pamela Calnen
Identify spicebush swallowtail caterpillars by their large eyespots.

Spicebush swallowtail caterpillars emerge from white or white-green round eggs. In the earliest stages, the caterpillars start off small and brown to mimic bird droppings for safety.

Older caterpillars look quite intimidating, with large eyespots. They are mainly green but turn yellow shortly before transitioning into a butterfly.

Learn how to attract pipevine swallowtail butterflies to your garden.

Spicebush Swallowtail Range and Habitat

You can find spicebush swallowtails in the eastern United States. They visit gardens as far west as Texas and north to Iowa and southern Maine. They primarily hang out in woodlands, fields, roadsides and gardens.

Look for zebra swallowtail butterflies in southern states.

How to Attract Spicebush Swallowtail Butterflies

The upperside of a spicebush swallowtail butterfly on an orange cluster of butterfly weed.Courtesy Joy Brannon
The upperside of a spicebush swallowtail butterfly on an orange cluster of butterfly weed.

The best way to draw spicebush swallowtail butterflies to your yard is by growing one of their host plants. These are specific flowers, shrubs or trees that butterflies lay their eggs on and their caterpillars eat. Grow one of these host plants in your backyard for the chance to see the caterpillars.

Spicebush swallowtails only choose spicebush shrubs, sassafras, swamp bay and red bay trees.

But if you don’t have space for a large shrub or tree, other options exist. The adult butterflies visit a variety of flowering plants.

For example, reader Joy Brannon of Riverton, Kansas, notes that spicebush swallowtails visit the butterfly weed she planted for monarchs. She says, “I was pleasantly surprised to find this spicebush swallowtail butterfly (above) on my butterfly weed. As a child, I always liked to chase butterflies, and as a senior citizen, I’m still chasing them.”

Draw in these visitors with any butterfly favorites, like these blooming shrubs, or a puddling station.

Next, learn how to identify and attract a giant swallowtail butterfly.

Molly Jasinski
Molly Jasinski is an editor, writer and social media manager for Birds & Blooms. She’s been with the magazine since 2019 and with Trusted Media Brands since 2012. She brings more than 10 years of editorial experience to Birds & Blooms and has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism. In her role, Molly works closely with bird experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman and gardening expert Melinda Myers, in addition to the Birds & Blooms freelance writers. Molly was featured in a May 2023 episode of The Thing With Feathers birdwatching podcast. She's a member of the nonprofit Friends of Wehr Nature Center in Franklin, Wisconsin, a popular location for birdwatching in southeastern Wisconsin. She goes out birding often and is still hoping to spot a tufted titmouse in the near future.