Swallowtail (Papilio machaon)

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2016 photographs highlighted in green. Click on any photograph to go to an enlarged picture, or simply scroll down the page.

18156_male_Isère_12Jul09 7970_male_Isère_5Jul07 9476_sex?_Var_5Sep07
14097_sex?_Var_02Sep08 35817_sex?_Alpes-Maritimes_2Jul14 15140_pair_Var_09May09
18317_male_Isère_13Jul09 2712_male_Var_14Jul06 9588_larva_Var_07Sep07
15588_ovum_Var_30May09 35616_ovum_Var_26Jun14  

This huge and utterly magnificent butterfly is not uncommon in southern France, but rarely seen in numbers, and in fact I cannot remember seeing more than one or two at any one time. Because it is so large, it is almost unmissable. In the UK, where it is represented by the slightly darker British subspecies britannicus (the European subspecies is known as gorganus), it is confined to a small area of the Norfolk Broads, but in France it is distributed over a wide variety of terrain including mountainous areas and its larval hostplant requirements are quite different. It is often quite hard to photograph as its wings are constantly moving even when it is nectaring, possibly because it is a (comparatively) heavy butterfly, and needs to keep the wingbeats high to assist buoyancy.

I particularly like the "shower" of blue cells in the uph black band, reminiscent of a firework display or a comet.


The only butterfly it could be confused with is the inaptly-named Scarce Swallowtail (Iphiclides podalirius), or if you are very lucky, the very scarce (now this one is scarce) Southern Swallowtail (P. alexanor).

ref sex


alt. m
18156 M

a male, puddling.

7970 M

a male, taking salts. I rather like the three Southern Small Whites (Pieris mannii) which seem to be lined up and staying a respectful distance behind the "king".

9476 ?

this shows the width and wing area of this magnificent butterfly. It's a pity that the right hand tail is missing, but this is probably an effective defence measure, as it was probably lost to a predator who thought it was attacking the vulnerable head end of the insect.

12699 M

a male, puddling for salts. One of the few occasions it stays still and open enough for a decent photograph opportunity.

14097 ?

photographed on the move, as it was nectaring.

35817 ? a female possibly, flying at high altitude. It is rather pale compared to others on this page, and appears to have a part of the chrysalis still attached to the back of its head. 2100
15140 pair

a mating pair. The first time I have ever seen this, and quite probably the last.

18317 M

a male puddling in company with another machaon and many other species.

2712 M

this was acting in a very un-swallowtail-like way, to my eyes. It was circling around the bush, returning to the same perch (the top-most point on the bush, about 2.5m high) each time, as if guarding its territory. It did facilitate a shot of the underside, even if from a distance of about one metre (I have blown up the photograph for detail). It was a fabulous fresh specimen, with very light and delicate markings, that may have just emerged.

9588 larva

a larva, feeding on Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), I believe.

15588 ovum

an ovum, laid on a plant that I don't think is Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), the normal larval hostplant and quite common in Var. Machaon does have a wide variety of larval hostplants, and I think the plant in 15588 is probably related to Fennel. Any advice would be welcome.

35616 ovum an ovum which appears to have been laid on Fennel. 370