Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon) (Lucas, 1852)

Diagnosis: This medium-sized swallowtail (wingspan: 52 to 80 mm) tends to be mainly yellow in most forms. The yellow band is wide on the forewing and on the hindwing extends to the wing base, except in form "nitra," which is mostly black. The eye-spot near the tails has a black-centred pupil. The abdomen is black with a yellow lateral stripe.

Subspecies: Until recently, the various forms of this and other closely related swallowtails were often confused, causing many misidentifications. The work of a number of specialists, particularly Fisher (1977) and Sperling (1987), has now clearly defined zelicaon and its forms and indicate that formal subspecific divisions are not justified for this species. In Canada, the typical yellow form of zelicaon is found in British Columbia, as far north as Pink Mountain, and in Alberta and southwestern Saskatchewan. The rare dark form of zelicaon (form "nitra," previously treated as a separate species called Papilio nitra) is found in Canada from the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains into southeastern Saskatchewan.

Range: A common butterfly throughout most of its range in the western U.S., this swallowtail can be found in most of British Columbia, except the north, in southern and central Alberta, and in southern Saskatchewan. The dark form "nitra" tends to be found in foothills at lower altitudes than the yellow form.


Specimen collection data


Similar Species: The Old World Swallowtail (P. machaon), the Black Swallowtail (P. polyxenes), and the Indra Swallowtail (P. indra) (similar to form "nitra") can be confused with the Anise Swallowtail. [compare images]

Early Stages: These are very similar to the Black Swallowtail. Foodplants are domestic and wild members of the parsley family, especially Angelica and cow-parsnip (Heracleum spp.)

Abundance: Papilio zelicaon is considered common, though local, throughout most of its Canadian range; the black form "nitra" is uncommon to rare.

Flight Season: Adults are found from late May to late June in Saskatchewan; there is a single mid-summer brood at higher elevations in the Rocky Mountains. In British Columbia and Alberta they are usually found from June into August.

Habits: This species is widespread in a variety of habitats from seashore to high mountains. It is an avid flower visitor and is often seen in western gardens. However, the easiest way to find it is to visit a hilltop where males commonly wait for females.

© 2002. This material is reproduced with permission from The Butterflies of Canada by Ross A. Layberry, Peter W. Hall, and J. Donald Lafontaine. University of Toronto Press; 1998. Specimen photos courtesy of John T. Fowler.