Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillar

Identifying Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillar

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillar-swallowtail-caterpillar
Eastern swallowtail butterfly caterpillar

Our gardens and landscapes are teeming with all sorts of insects whether they be garden insect pests or beneficial insects, what we don’t want is to mistake these insects that are of great benefit for the bad guys. Have you ever moved through your garden area and stumbled upon insects especially the weird-looking ones wondering what they were? In this article, however, we will be discussing such insects known as the eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillar and how to identify them.

The eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly is stunning with its beautiful bright colors that will brighten up a garden area, this butterfly is most popular in its region (eastern North America) not only because of its dazzling colors but of its size being the largest. Like every other species of butterflies, the tiger swallowtail caterpillar also has a starting point before it changes into one of the most beautiful butterflies to produce the next generation.

The journey of the eastern tiger swallowtail caterpillar

The caterpillar or larval stage

After mating the female tiger swallowtail butterfly lays her eggs singly atop or undersides of the host plant leaves, a female can lay up to 250 eggs in her short life span which is about a month. Once the eggs are laid they hatch in three to five days, the swallowtail eggs have the appearance of bird droppings to protect them from predators. As the eggs mature it takes on a shiny green appearance.

When the larvae emerge it consumes its eggshell before turning to the host plant to begin feeding on the leaves, fully grown larvae range up to 4.6 cm (approx. 2.5 inches) in length. The first three instars are dark brown with a white saddle, the fourth and fifth instar larva are green with a swollen thorax and a transverse band of faint blue dots on each abdominal segment. At this stage, the caterpillar takes 3-4 weeks before it reaches a chrysalis

As in the picture shown above the caterpillar has two dots that are clearly visible these dots or fake eyes are to trick their predators into thinking that they are larger than them and the reason for this is to scare them away.

Chrysalis stage

As the caterpillar moves to the next stage of its life it forms a silk pad on the underside of a branch or twig. It then uses a hook-covered appendage called a cremaster, the reason for this is to attach itself to the silk pad. The chrysalis varies in colors ranging from off-white to brown. It is often spotted with green and dark brown.  The caterpillar then firmly embeds itself in the silk,  the chrysalis also can be found in ground litter, tree trunks, fence posts, or in locations where the weather is extremely cold.

Adult or butterfly stage

After 6-14 days a beautiful butterfly emerges to continue the cycle.

The final word on the eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly

The journey and the life of the eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly may be short but their beauty is stunning, what I like about this butterfly at the egg and caterpillar stage is the tac-tics that are used to trick its predators. These amazing butterflies are a part of our great ecosystem, so the next time you’re in your garden you may come across one of these caterpillars as you enter their world and observe as they move from one stage to the next forming into a beautiful butterfly continuing its short but exciting journey.



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About the author

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Norman loves being in the garden, both at home and for his job....
he is 'Natures Little helper' being outdoors, growing his vegetables and flowers from an early age.
Now having spent over 22 years in the profession he want to give some of his knowledge to others...
his vast array of hints and tips you will find scattered over this site will help you no end growing plants in your garden.

4 thoughts on “Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillar”

  1. I love the way butterflies transform any atmosphere. Butterflies puts me in a relaxed mindset. Thank you for an informative article – Identifying Tiger Swallowtail Caterpillar. We should appreciate the little things in life. Although the caterpillar’s lifespan is short, we must let the life cycle continue if we want to continue having butterflies in our gardens.

  2. How cool is that!  

    I had no idea what a tiger swallowtail caterpillar was.  I live in AZ so I don’t see many caterpillars or butterflies.  

    Do you know if they are a part of the desert ecosystem at all?  

    Their fake eyes are so neat!! They should have called them the clown caterpillar because for some reason its appearance reminds me of a clown’s painted face or a clownfish.  

    Quick question, are there any negative effects caused by these caterpillars on the plants they make a home on?


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