Swallowtails: Ozark woodland swallowtail (Papilio joanae)

(Lepidoptera: Papilionidae: Papilioninae: Papilionini)

Profile prepared by Mace Vaughan and Matthew Shepherd, The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation

The Ozark woodland swallowtail is restricted to dry forests in the Ozark region of Missouri and northern Arkansas. This butterfly is not rare where it occurs and populations appear stable currently with few direct threats. However, due to its very restricted range, populations may be vulnerable to catastrophic events such as wildfire or the widespread treatment of forests with pesticides.

red list profile

conservation status

Xerces Red List Status: Vulnerable
Other Rankings:

Canada – Species at Risk Act: N/A
Canada – provincial status: N/A
Mexico: N/A
USA – Endangered Species Act: None
USA – state status: None
NatureServe: G3
IUCN Red List: N/A

The Ozark woodland swallowtail is not rare where it occurs but it has a very limited range, essentially the Ozarks of Missouri and rarely Arkansas. Currently, populations appear stable and secure but this could quickly change.

description and taxonomic status

The Ozark woodland swallowtail is, like other members of the family Papilionidae (swallowtails), a large, showy butterfly. Its wingspan is 3¼ to 4 1/16 inches (8.2 to 10.2 cm). This swallowtail is nearly identical to the black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes).

Males are black on both sides. The uppersides have both postmedian and marginal bands of irregularly shaped yellow spots. On the hind wings between these two bands is a submarginal band of indistinct blue spots, with a red eye spot on the trailing edge. The black pupil of the eye touches the inner edge of the wing. The undersides of the wings are similarly marked, except that the yellow spots are whitish or with an orange tint and the blue spots more obvious.

Females are similar to males, except that they are dark brown. On the upperside, the yellow spots are generally smaller and paler than the males and the blue spots on the hindwing more extensive (appearing more like patches than spots). On the underside, the forewing spots are fainter and the hindwing spots are brighter.

Papilio joanae J. R. Heitzman, 1974. It was previously considered synonymous with Papilio polyxenes Fabricius, 1775. Common names include Ozark swallowtail and Joan’s swallowtail.

life history

This is a woodland butterfly found in the Ozark dry forests. It is associated with cedar glades and openings, and other sparsely wooded areas. Larval hostplants are yellow pimpernel (Taenidia integerrima), meadowparsnip (Thaspium sp.), and golden alexanders (Zizia aurea). Joan’s swallowtail does not use highly disturbed or agricultural habitats.

There are two flight periods between April and September. This species overwinters as chryslids and the first generation of adults emerges in April. Eggs are laid singly on hostplants and the caterpillars eat leaves and flowers.

Adults drink nectar of rose verbena (Glandularia sp.), wood betony (Stachys sp.), puccoon (Lithospermum sp.), and false garlic (Nothoscordum sp.).


The Ozark woodland swallowtail is restricted to the Ozark region of Missouri and northern Arkansas. There is one isolated record from Kentucky.

Courtesy of Butterflies and Moths of North America, Big Sky Institute.

threats and conservation needs


Populations of this butterfly appear stable currently with few direct threats. Due to its very restricted range, however, populations may be vulnerable to catastrophic events such as wildfire or the widespread treatment of forests with pesticides. When the gypsy moth reaches the Ozarks—as it almost certainly will—spraying will pose a significant threat to this butterfly: there is growing evidence that Ozark woodland swallowtail larvae are exceptionally sensitive to Btk, and may even be killed by month-old residue on leaves.

Collection of the Ozark woodland swallowtail for sale may be of growing concern if collection pressure increases. The collection of this species likely won’t pose a problem at current levels given the current population size. Because of the high price paid for pinned specimens ($200 or more), it may become a significant threat that needs to be addressed.

Conservation needs

Although this species is not rare in the areas where it is found, its range is small enough to warrant conservation attention. Small populations are vulnerable to environmental change. While occasional wildfires may not harm the species and can improve and open up new habitat, burns on a cycle shorter than five or ten years, or of large areas, could have a negative impact on local populations.

Great care needs to be taken when planning and implementing spraying operations for forest pests.

Monitoring of known populations would be valuable to assess the impacts of environmental changes, especially if the gypsy moth reaches the Ozarks. Studies into the impacts of forestry practices, such as thinning and herbicide use, would be useful.


Heitzman, J. R. 1974 [“1973”] A new species of Papilio from the eastern United States (Papilionidae). Journal of Research on the Lepidoptera. 12(1):3-7.

Heitzman, J. R., and J. E. Heitzman. 1987. Butterflies and Moths of Missouri. Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City, MO.

Opler, P. A. (chair), J. M. Burns, J. D. LaFontaine, R. K. Robbins, and F. Sperling.1998. Scientific Names of North American butterflies. Fort Collins, CO.

Opler, P. A., and V. Malikul. 1992. A Field Guide to Eastern Butterflies. Peterson Field Guide #4. Houghton-Mifflin Co., Boston, MA.

Scott, J. A. 1986. The Butterflies of North America. Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA.

additional resources

Big Sky Institute, Butterflies and Moths of North America: Ozark swallowtail (Accessed 1/21/09)

NatureServe Explorer (Accessed 9/23/08)


Vaughan, D. M., and M. D. Shepherd. 2005. Species Profile: Papilio joanae. In Shepherd, M. D., D. M. Vaughan, and S. H. Black (Eds). Red List of Pollinator Insects of North America. CD-ROM Version 1 (May 2005). Portland, OR: The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.


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