N A T U R K U N D L I C H E S   I N F O R M A T I O N S S Y S T E M

Papilio saharae Oberthür, 1879

(zoological nomenclature: valid name, available)

General information:

Papilio machaon var. saharae Oberthür, 1879: 68.
Type locality: Algeria, Laghouat
Type: Syntype : Algeria, Laghouat, leg. Gaston Allard, in coll. NHM, London.

Synonyms, misspellings, wrong determinations, etc.:
Papilio machaon rathjensi Warnecke, 1932. Type locality: Yemen, near Sana´a. Subspecies.

Desert Swallowtail


: Morocco underside, SYNTYPE: in coll. NHM, London    
Picture from: wikimedia commons: Notafly (creative commons), modified
Detailed view
Picture from: NHM, London (creative commons: BY-NC-ND, www.globis.insects-online.de)
Detailed view

Examined: pictures of upper- and underside. Wing expanse: app. 60 – 80 mm. Head and thorax black with a yellowish line on each side, extending to the base of the wing; eyes brown, antennae black, app. 2/5 of forewing length; upperside of wings pale yellow, forewing with a broad black postdiscal band; the submarginal area black too, interrupted by a line of yellow dots between the veins; basal third of wing black, with scattered yellow scales; veins and three big spots on the anterior margin of the wing also black; hindwings distinctly tailed, the black postdiscal band scattered with blue; in the anal angle of the wing a red and blue, eyelike dot, delicately bordered with black, at least along the margin; veins delicately black too, the curved inner margin black with yellow hairs; underside of wings even paler than the upper side, the black postdiscal band in the forewing strongly suffused with pale yellow, the submarginal area mostly pale yellow; black postdiscal band of hindwing also strongly suffused with pale yellow; inner margin of hindwing only small blackish; underside of subanal area of hindwing with a deep groove; abdomen black, with yellow hairs laterally and beneath.


The distribution reaches from south of the Atlas mountains through northern Libyia, northern Egypt and Jordan to the western regions of Saudi-Arabia and Yemen. In southern Saudi-Arabia and Yemen, the species is represented by subspecies rathjensi Warnecke, 1932. The vertical distribution reaches from near sea level up to 2000 m (Tolman & Lewington 1998), in Yemen even up to 2900 m (Meerman & Boomsma 1986).


Tunisia, Chgarnia, TransAfrican Highway1 close to the Tunisia National Park, 2006.04.11      
Picture from: www.flickr.com: © Alun Harrison
Detailed view

Biotops are rocky slopes and gorges as well as dry and stony plains with scanty low vegetation. Inside the deserts, the species is restricted to around oases (Tolman & Lewington 1998).
Normally, the butterflies are on the wing in one generation from mid April till late May, but perhaps in accommodation to fluctuations in the degree of rainfall, especially winter rain, records are available from February till October. This may be explained by retarded hatching caused by extreme dryness on the one hand and by two ore more generations under favourable conditions on the other hand. In continued years with extreme dryness, the species may not appear at all (Tolman & Lewington, 1998).

Stages in development:

Egg. At first, the egg is glossy white, after two days the colour turns into chestnut-brown. On the average, the eggs are about 18% smaller than those of Papilio machaon Linné, 1758 (Pierron 1990). They are primarily laid on Deverra chloranthus (lower altitudes of North Africa), besides also on Deverra scoparia, Seseli varium, Deverra tortuosa (Sinai), Ferula communis (sinaica) (NW-Arabia, Yemen) and Pycnocyla glauca (subspecies rathjensi in SW-Arabia, see Pierron 1990 and Pittaway et al. 1994). Occasionally, they may also be found on Foeniculum vulgare (Meerman & Boomsma 1986). The egg stage lasts at least 16 days (Meerman & Boomsma 1986).

Larva. The L1-stage is darker than that of P. machaon, the white saddle in the middle being smaller and less conspicious. The L3-stage shows conspicious orange tubercles. The full-fed larva (L5) is smooth, white, the black cross-stripes being dissolved into irregular spots. The orange dots are lighter than in P. machaon, more yellowish (Pittaway et al. 1994). The osmeterium of the larva is brown and twice as long as that of Papilio machaon Linné, 1758 (Tolman & Lewington, 1998). Under breeding conditions, the larval stage lasts at least 19 days (Meerman & Boomsma 1986).

Pupa. The pupa is somewhat stout, green or brown (Pittaway et al. 1994). Under favourable conditions, the pupal stage may last less than 15 days (Meerman & Boomsma 1986).


P. saharae : Morocco P. machaon machaon : Salzburg, Flachgau, Thalgau, Thalgauegg, 1980.08.21, coll. Michael Kurz P. hospiton : without data  
Picture from: wikimedia commons: Notafly (creative commons), modified
Detailed view
Picture from: Kurz Michael
Detailed view
Picture from: wikimedia commons: Sarefo (GNU Free Documentation license), modified
Detailed view

According to Higgins & Riley (1978), the dark fascia on the hindwing is said to be characteristic, which runs straitly to vein 3 (Cu1) and then is bent in an angle of almost 90 degrees. Furthermore, the red eye-like spot may be reduced. According to Tolman & Lewington (1998) on the contrary, there are no certain distinguishing characters. Only the number of segments of the antenna allows to separte the species from Papilio machaon Linné, 1758. This number is 30-31 for saharae, whereas for machaon it is 33-36. Besides there shall be minor differences in the male genitalia. In colouration and drawings of the larva, the differences are more distinct. The ground colour of the larva of saharae is whitish (green in machaon), with the black cross bands dissolved in irregular spots. The larva of Papilio machaon mauretanica Verity, 1905 however, is said to be intermediate in colouration.

Phylogeny: Crossing experiments suggest, that P. saharae is closly allied to Papilio hospiton Géné, 1839, since hybrids are very fertile and give also a F2-generation. Hybrids with P. machaon on the other hand, show a much lesser vitality (Pierron 1990).

Worth knowing:


Higgins, L. G. & N. D. Riley 1978. Die Tagfalter Europas und Nordwestafrikas, übersetzt von W. Forster, 2. Auflage, Verlag Paul Parey, Hamburg und Berlin
Meerman J. & T. Boomsma 1986. Der wenig bekannte Schwalbenschwanz aus Nordjemen, Papilio saharae rathjensi Warnecke, 1932 - Freilandbeobachtungen und Zucht (Lepidoptera: Papilionidae). Entomologische Zeitung 96 (13): 177-182.
Oberthür, C. 1879. Études d´entomologie: Faunes entomologiques. Descriptions d´insectes nouveaux ou peu connus. IV. - Catalogue raisonné des Papilionidae. Rennes, 117 pp., 6 pl.
Pierron, M. 1990. Contribution a la connaissance de la biologie de Papilio machaon saharae Obth. Differences avec Papilio machaon machaon L. et hybridations experimentales (Lep. Papilionidae). Alexanor 16 (6): 331-340.
Pittaway, A. R., T. B. Larsen, C. A. Clarke, C. R. Smith, R. Crnjar, F. M. M. Clarke 1994. Papilio saharae OBERTHÜR, 1879, specifically distinct from Papilio machaon LINNAEUS, 1758 (Lepidoptera: Papilionidae). Entomologist´s Gazette 45: 223-249.
Tolman T. & R. Lewington 1998. Die Tagfalter Europas und Nordwestafrikas, übersetzt von M. Nuß, Franckh-Kosmos Verlags-GmbH & Co., Stuttgart.

Publication data:

Kurz Michael: 2006.01.12
Kurz Michael: 2006.01.15
Kurz Michael: 2008.08.05
Kurz Michael: 2011.04.06
Kurz Michael: 2011.07.07
Kurz Michael: 2013.01.29
Kurz Michael: 2014.04.24
Kurz Michael: 2014.04.25
Kurz Michael: 2014.05.14
Kurz Michael: 2014.11.05
Kurz Michael: 2014.11.13
Kurz Michael: 2014.11.18
Document reviewed by:
not reviewed: 2014.11.18
Document released by:
Kurz Michael: 2014.11.18