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What Is the State Insect of Arizona? Characteristics, Symbols, & Appearance

Arizona Flag waves

Learning about different state symbols and insects is a fun experience, especially since each state has its symbols that show its uniqueness. The state of Arizona has many distinctive symbols, and one such state symbol is the state insect which was chosen only in 2001. Arizona went nearly a century without an official state insect, and when it was finally chosen, it was a lovely and stunning two-tailed swallowtail butterfly.

Read on below to learn all the features this butterfly has and why and how it was voted as the state’s insect.

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Two-Tailed Swallowtail Butterfly Characteristics

Two-Tailed Swallowtail
Image By: Pamela Au, Shutterstock
Botanical name: Papilio multicaudata
Adult size: Around 6 inches
Colors: Black and yellow wings with blue markings
Adult lifespan: 6 to 14 days
Food: Nectar (Thistles, buckeye, milkweeds, lilac)
Range: Western North America (from south to Nebraska in the east, central Texas, and south to Mexico)
Habitat: Moist valleys, slopes, and canyons, along streams and woodlands and in cities and suburbs

Appearance and Behavior

The two-tailed swallowtail butterfly is a large species with a wingspan ranging from 3.5 to 5.5 inches. The butterfly has unique yellow wings with distinctive black markings and black edges. Each wing has parallel stripes, and on the bottom are blue tints. On the end of each wing, the two-tailed swallowtail has two extended tails, which is the reason behind the name.

The caterpillar of the two-tailed swallowtail has interesting features. Right behind its head, the caterpillars have a particular gland called the osmeterium. This gland resembles a snake’s tongue, and the gland extends outwards each time a caterpillar is threatened. The purpose of this genius design and defensive tactic is to scare off predators.

Life Cycle

The two-tailed swallowtail starts as a single egg, yellowish and rounded, laid on host plant leaves. The two-tailed swallowtail larva is similar to the larvae of a tiger swallowtail—a related species. The larvae feed on chokecherry, sycamore, and ash. They are green with the distinctive “snake’s eyes” on the front sections. They usually turn red or brown just when they are about to pupate. The chrysalis of this butterfly remains hidden in a protective location before maturing into a butterfly.


You can usually find the two-tailed swallowtail butterfly in the foothills of slopes, canyons, and the moist regions of certain valleys and woodlands. Since these butterflies love humid environments, they can also be found near bodies of water such as streamsides and near cities and urban areas.

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Becoming the State Insect of Arizona

Arizona is a country that went almost a century without an official state insect. The state insect was the last symbol of the state that Arizona chose. The first mention of the two-tailed swallowtail came from the Arizona Federation of Garden Clubs and the Southeast Arizona Butterfly Association when these two powerful groups represented and pushed the idea of this particular butterfly becoming the state’s insect.

The two-tailed swallowtail was finally chosen for the state’s butterfly on May 9th, 2001, when it was enacted by the Legislature of the State of Arizona.

Two tailed Swallowtail butterfly
Image By: Pamela Au, Shutterstock

Other Arizona State Symbols

State seal

  • Adopted in 1912

State motto

  • “Ditat Deus” (“God Enriches”), adopted in 1912

State fish

  • Apache trout—found only in the streams of the Arizona White Mountains, and adopted in 1986

State flower

State tree

  • Blue palo verde, adopted in 1954

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Final Thoughts

Arizona is a country with many unique features that make up the entire culture and tradition of its citizens. There are many unique symbols in the state, such as its memorable motto, “Ditat Deus” and the state fish, which is entirely distinctive to Arizona’s streams. Another fantastic symbol is the state’s insect—the two-tailed swallowtail butterfly.

Featured Image Credit: Joseph Sohm, Shutterstock


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