Backyard Buddies
Dainty Swallowtail Butterflies

Photo: Michael Jefferies

Dainty Swallowtail Butterflies

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The Dainty Swallowtail Butterfly is also known as the Dingy Swallowtail or Small Citrus Butterfly - but it isn't dingy at all. You'll see these stunning butterflies in flight across eastern Australia right up until May

Adult Dainty Swallowtails are black with grey, white, and smaller blue and red spots on their wings, and yellow markings along their bodies. The female's wingspan is up to 7.2 cm while the male is slightly smaller, with his growing up to 6.7 cm.

Their caterpillars eat the leaves of native and introduced citrus trees, and the butterflies feed on nectar from flowers.

This gorgeous butterfly can be attracted to any garden within its range by planting caterpillar food plants such as native and introduced citrus. Adult females will only lay their eggs on new growth.

The male patrols his territory around a food plant - their flight is often slow and lazy, but they can take off in a great hurry if disturbed.

The caterpillar of the Dainty Swallowtail is blue-black in colour, with two rows of yellow-orange spots on its side and many small pale blue or white spots. It has two rows of short spines along its back.

To protect themselves from predators, the caterpillars extend a bright red-orange forked organ from behind their heads called an 'osmeterium'. It emits strong and stinky chemicals smelling of citrus to deter predators that would otherwise easily eat an unprotected caterpillar.

When the caterpillar is about 3.5 to 4 cm long and has munched enough citrus leaves, soft new growth, and the occasional flower and bud, it turns green with orange-yellow spots on its back and some small scattered pale blue and white spots.

Next the caterpillar creates a grey or brown pupa with green patches - these look like the citrus bark onto which they are fixed, so they are camouflaged remarkably well.

During summer it takes about two weeks for the butterfly to emerge from the pupa. During autumn it takes four weeks for the butterfly to emerge, but often these pupas stay dormant over winter and the butterflies don't emerge until spring.

Did you know?

Dainty Swallowtail Butterflies are the smallest swallowtail butterflies in Australia.


Plant Native Finger Lime Citrus australasica, Native Lime Citrus garrawayae or Desert Lime Citrus glauca as these attract Dainty Swallowtail Butterflies, as well as Capaneus Swallowtail, Orchard Swallowtail and Ambrax Swallowtail Butterflies. The caterpillars just love citrus, but they definitely don't like pesticides or chemicals so avoid using them in your garden.


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John - National Parks Volunteer, SA

Photo: OEH