This family contains the largest and some of the most recognizable of all California butterflies. There are about 600 species worldwide. The swallowtails (subfamily Papilioninae) usually have at least one set of long tails on the hindwings and have stripes of black and yellow or white. Our genera are Battus and Papilio. The parnassians (subfamily Parnassiinae), also sometimes called Apollos, lack tails and are ghostly transluscent white or yellow-white with black and red spots: not your typical swallowtail. Our two Parnassius species are the only California representatives of this relatively small group.

Battus philenor

The signature riparian butterfly of our region, occurring along streams in foothill canyons and on the Central Valley floor, essentially everywhere where its only host plant, California Pipevine or Dutchman's Pipe, Aristolochia californica, occurs. (It also occurs in coastal scrub vegetation, where there are no transect sites.) It is unmistakeable and very conspicuous as both a larva and an adult. Only the pupa is cryptic (either brown or green, with a delicate golden filigree).

Papilio eurymedon

Common from the lower foothills to tree-line; not often seen in the Central Valley. Our only tiger-striped Swallowtail with a white or whitish ground color, and the only one that is always single-brooded (April-August at low elevations, June-September in the high country). Males patrol canyon bottoms but also hilltop, especially in chaparral. Both sexes are avid flower visitors. In the foothills they are often seen on Vetch, Yerba Santa, Blue Dicks, Ithuriel's Spear, and California Buckeye.

Papilio indra

This small, black-and-yellowish-white swallowtail occurs on rocky, treeless balds - on serpentine at low elevations and at and above tree-line. On our transect it occurs sporadically at Donner Pass but consistently at Castle and Basin Peaks. Males puddle. They patrol parallel to ridgetops but just below them, unlike the Anise Swallowtail which dominates the actual summits. A usually uncommon species with tremendous geographic variation over its range, but no significant variation in our area.

Papilio multicaudatus

Generally uncommon in our area, largely confined to riparian corridors where it is greatly outnumbered by the Western Tiger Swallowtail. Generally rare to absent on the floor of the Central Valley. (Why?) Adults soar high in the trees, the males patrolling stream courses and roads. Two or three broods in the foothills; perhaps only one at Sierraville and at Verdi, NV, where quite common. Visits California Buckeye, Yerba Santa, Giant Hyssop, Milkweed, Lilies, and other large, showy flowers.

Papilio rutulus

Recorded at all sites. The Western Tiger Swallowtail is basically a species of riparian forest, where it glides majestically back and forth along the watercourse. It has expanded into older urban neighborhoods where several of its host genera are grown as shade trees, and behaves as if the street were a watercourse. In the high country and on the Sierran east slope its usual host is Aspen.

Papilio zelicaon

The Anise Swallowtail is a complex set of ecological races, or "ecotypes," whose seasonality has been adjusted by natural selection to match that of their host plants. Selection for adaptive life-history traits seems to have proceeded much faster than evolution at the level of neutral molecular loci.

Parnassius clodius

Common to abundant from Lang Crossing up to Castle Peak; not at Sierra Valley. Common at Washington, near the lower elevational limit of its range. Higher-altitude specimens are consistently smaller than at Washington and Lang. The male of this species generates a large waxy vaginal plug (the sphragis) that prevents the female from mating again (though other males do try). It does not, of course, interfere with egg-laying! Both sexes visit Yerba Santa, Coyotemint, and a wide variety of other flowers.

Parnassius phoebus behrii

A characteristic alpine species of the central and southern Sierra Nevada, seemingly becoming rarer in recent years. Our transect lies entirely north of its breeding range, but it has been picked up a couple of times as an apparent stray. One brood, July-August; males hilltop. Host plant Sedum, which is common enough on the granodiorite balds at the east end of Donner Pass, but the butterfly does not breed there.