Papilio alexanor

Southern Swallowtail


by Matt Rowlings

copyright © 2003-2024

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Samos, Greece, June 2018

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Samos, Greece, June 2018

Field notes and information

A very large species, found across the south and southeast Mediterranean but it is local and not frequently encountered. It can however be found "casually" with a good dose of luck.

Identification & Similar species: It is very large and distinctive. Only the swallowtail P. machaon shares its range in Europe. The tiger stripes are distinctive and are reminiscent only of the Scarce Swallowtail, Iphiclides podalirius, but that butterfly has a) a white or pale cream ground colour rather than yellow and b) the tiger stripes are paired.

Distribution & Flight: SE France (plus neighbouring Italy), Greece and its larger islands. Low levels, rising to 1000m or more in hills. It flies from April in hotter places, more usually June (eg Samos GR) into early July (SE France). northwest Sicily, I've heard there are no recent records.

Habitat & Behaviour: Hilly country, with hot dry slopes. Often with open woodland. Larvae take various Umbelliferae (carrots). Frequently takes nectar from thistles and red valarian.

Variation: destelensis France, is found exceedingly rarely in just north of Toulon. It is larger and appears earlier than elsewhere in France. It is very highly threatened, but every few years or so there is a report of an adult or larva found in this very restricted region. Over collecting, particularly recently when already very highly threatened, may have played (and continue to play) a role in the demise of this subspecies.

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Samos, Greece, June 2018

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Samos, Greece, June 2018

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Samos, Greece, June 2002

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Samos, Greece, June 2018

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Samos, Greece, ,June 2018

Note the extended osmeterium. It is extended when the larva is threatened, emitting a disagreeable smell (which I couldn't smell...).

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Samos, Greece, June 2018

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Samos, Greece, ,June 2018

Larval food plant, Hercules-all-heal Opopanax chironium. One larva is visible.

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Samos, Greece, ,June 2018

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Samos, Greece, ,June 2018

Larval food plant, Hercules-all-heal Opopanax chironium.

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Var, France, May 2012

Near Toulon, a region where the ssp. destelensis just may still fly.

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Samos, Greece, June 2018