City Cast

Urban Almanac: Oregon Swallowtail

Rachel Monahan
Posted on June 1   |   Updated on June 6
butterfly on a flower

Oregon’s state insect is the Oregon swallowtail. (@portlandaudubon)

The Oregon swallowtail (aka Papilio oregonius) isn’t a bird; it’s the state’s official insect. And it’s an attractive one — with black and yellow coloring and bright red-orange spots. The Oregon swallowtail became the state insect in 1979. The rain beetle had been a previous contender for state insect, but lacked political support because it preys on orchard fruit.

You could be forgiven for expecting a bird: Oregon swallowtails get their common name from the fact that the end of their wings look like a swallow’s tail. And both the scientific and common name include the state’s name.

It’s native to these parts. These butterflies, with a wingspan up to 4 inches wide, flutter through Oregon, Idaho, and parts of British Columbia. In Oregon they live east of the Cascades.

Their caterpillars are also brightly colored and eat tarragon sagebrush. The adult butterflies eat the nectar of wildflowers, including thistles, phlox, daisies, asters, and milkweed.

Their predators include birds, wasps, spiders, and praying mantis. Fun fact: The Oregon swallowtail was on a 13 cent U.S. postage stamp, in 1979.

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