House Grail is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

What Is the State Insect of Virginia? How Was It Decided?

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Virginia is a beautiful state with many characteristics that make it exciting and unique. While each state of the US has its state insect, Virginia’s official state insect is quite stunning and interesting to learn about—the Tiger Swallowtail butterfly. This butterfly is beautiful and easily recognizable in the wilderness. It has yellow and black stripes across its body, giving it the unique name it carries.

If you’d like to learn more about the Tiger Swallowtail butterfly and how it became to be the state flower of Virginia, read more below.

garden flower divider

Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly Characteristics

Botanical name: Papilio glaucus
Adult size: 5 to 5.5 inches
Colors: Yellow and black
Average lifespan: 3–4 weeks
Food: Leaves from woody plants and nectar from flowers
Native: Eastern North America
Habitat: Deciduous woods near bodies of water, such as rivers and swamps


The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail is a gorgeous butterfly with a large body, usually ranging from 3.5 inches to 5.5 inches. The butterfly is easily identified in the wild by its tiger stripes in black and yellow colors. Male tiger swallowtail butterflies are always colored yellow, while females are usually colored black, with blue tinges.

The females can vary in color, as the yellow females are usually more attractive to males, while the black females are less likely to be noticed by predators.

Appalachian tiger swallowtail
Image By: anthony heflin, Shutterstock

Life Cycle

The female Swallowtail lays green eggs on leaves, which develop into larvae after 4 to 10 days, depending on the conditions. The larvae or caterpillars are green with blue spots that develop into a chrysalis stage after 3 to 4 weeks. A butterfly will emerge from its cocoon after 10 to 20 days, and the entire life cycle lasts around 1 month.


Tiger Swallowtails can usually fly near deciduous woods, forests, and streams of water, such as swamps and rivers. They also live in parks, orchards, and residential gardens. They usually look for flowers with nectar, searching in large numbers.

How the Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly Got Its Name

The Tiger Swallowtail has a unique name, which is accordingly given to this distinctive butterfly. The name Tiger Swallowtail comes from the unique stripes these butterflies have, similar to a tiger’s patterns, and the black tail both males and females have. The stripes on a Swallowtail are visible and easily recognizable from even far away. Because the surface of this butterfly is yellow with distinctive black stripes on the body, the butterfly got its name Tiger Swallowtail.

It also has a unique black tail on the bottom of its wings, a unique characteristic for this species, hence the Swallowtail name.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Image By: Valoxioma, Pixabay

How the Tiger Swallowtail Became the State Insect of Virginia

The Tiger Swallowtail wasn’t the first choice for a state insect in Virginia. In 1976, the House of Delegates introduced a particular bill that made the Chinese mantis Virginia’s official state insect. An entomologist Michael Kosztarab had a unique proposition at the time—making a butterfly native to North America the state’s insect. While the senate agreed with this proposition, the House of Delegates still went with the Chinese mantis.

The Tiger Swallowtail only received its title in 1991, when Kosztarab proposed a second bill and allied with the Virginia Federation of Garden Clubs. The second bill was finally accepted in 1991, making the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail the official insect of Virginia. There were multiple reasons why they chose this insect over many other candidates, some of the main reasons being:

  • The lovely, colorful, and graceful appearance
  • The species Papilio glaucus was the first North American insect to be described scientifically
  • The insect symbolizes a gentle and peaceful environment
  • The first specimens that a Swedish biologist Linnaeus took came from Virginia
  • It is a widespread insect in Virginia that is active from April to late October
Eastern tiger swallowtail
Image Credit: Teresa, Pixabay

Other State Symbols of Virginia

State Flag Adopted in 1861
State Seal Adopted in 1776
State Bird The Cardinal, adopted in 1950
State Flower American dogwood, adopted in 1918
State Tree Flowering dogwood, adopted in 1956

garden flower divider Final Thoughts

State insects are always fun and interesting to read about, especially when the insects are so unique and colorful. The Tiger Swallowtail butterfly is a unique species that appear in the wild and are easily noticeable. You cannot miss spotting this butterfly in Virginia, with its intense yellow and black tiger stripes.

See also:

See also:

Featured Image Credit: hn2017, Pixabay


Related posts

OUR categories

Project ideas

Hand & power tools