Schaus swallowtail butterfly: Heraclides aristodemus ponceanus

Taxonomic Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Family: Papilionidae
Genus/Species: Heraclides aristodemus
Subspecies: Heraclides aristodemus ponceanus
Common Name: Schaus’ swallowtail butterfly

Listing Status

Federal Status: Endangered
FL Status: Federally-designated Endangered
FNAI Ranks: G4T1/S1 (Globally: Apparently Secure, Sub Sp. Critically Imperiled/ State: Critically Imperiled)
IUCN Status: None

Physical Description

Schaus’ swallowtail is a large black butterfly that can have a forewing length of up to 2.3 inches (5.8 centimeters).  This species has contrasting white or yellow markings across the forewing, and a series of yellow blotches that continues along the forewing to the hind wing.  It also has a black “tail” with yellow edging, and an orange patch on the underside of the hind wing (Florida Natural Areas Inventory 2001).   

Life History

The diet of Schaus’ swallowtail primarily consists of guava nectar, wild tamarind, and cheese shrubs (The Butterfly Conservation Initiative, n.d.).

Males begin courting by cruising around the tops (canopy) of trees in search of receptive females (Montana State University, n.d.).   After mating, the female lays eggs singly on the leaves of wild lime (Zanthoxylum fagara) and sea torchwood (Amyris elemifera).  Schaus’ swallowtails produce one generation annually between the months of April and July (Daniels 2007).  Newly hatched caterpillars feed on young blossoms and leaves (Montana State University, n.d.).  The emergence of adult butterflies depends on the beginning of the rainy season in Florida, as the pupae can remain dormant for over a year if the required weather conditions do not exist (Daniels 2007).

Habitat and Distribution

Schaus Swallowtail Butterfly Distribution MapSchaus’ swallowtail inhabits tropical hardwood hammocks in Key Largo and the islands in Biscayne National Park that support the species primary habitat (Florida Natural Areas Inventory 2001).


The Schaus’ swallowtail population faces environmental threats in its limited range.  Weather conditions such as droughts and hurricanes also threaten the Schaus’ swallowtail.  Droughts prevent the pupae from emerging out of dormant stage into adults.  Due to its limited range in the Florida Keys, a strong hurricane could wipe out the population.  In 1992, Hurricane Andrew nearly caused the extinction of the species with only 73 individuals surviving the storm (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, n.d.).   Inbreeding threatens Schaus’ swallowtail because it causes genetic diversity to be lost within the species, thus limiting the ability to adapt to changing environments (Daniels 2007).  Other threats include habitat loss due to development and pesticide spraying for mosquito control.

Conservation and Management

Schaus’ swallowtail butterfly is protected as an Endangered species by the Federal Endangered Species Act and as a Federally-designated Endangered species by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule. External Website

Other Informative Links

Butterfly Conservation Initiative External Website
Florida Natural Areas Inventory External Website
Oxford University Museum of Natural History External Website
University of Florida Entomology and Nematology Department External Website
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service - Partnership with Private Landowners External Website



Printable version of this page Adobe PDF


Daniels, J. C. (2007, September). Schaus Swallowtail, Papilio aristodemus ponceanus. Retrieved  July 14, 2011, from University of Florida IFAS Extension: Adobe PDF External Website

Florida Natural Areas Inventory.  2001.  Field guide to the rare animals of Florida.   Adobe PDF External Website

Montana State University. (n.d.). Schaus' Swallowtail. Retrieved July 14, 2011, from Birds and    Moths of North America:                                     External Website

The Butterfly Conservation Initiative. (n.d.). Schaus Swallowtail Butterfly. Retrieved July 14, 2011, from External Website

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. (n.d.). Schaus Swallowtail Butterfly. Retrieved July 14, 2011, from Adobe PDF External Website

Image Credit Photo courtesy of Jaret C. Daniels, Ph.D.

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