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 alexanor Esper, 1800

(zoological nomenclature: valid name, available)

General information:

Pap.[ilio] Equ.[es] Achiv.[us] Alexanor Esper, 1800: 89, pl. 110, fig.1.
Type locality: France, Alpes-Maritimes, Provence, Nice
Type: Syntypes: France, Alpes-Maritimes, Provence, Nice, September [1790-1797, "vor einigen Jahren"], probably lost (Hesselbarth et al. 1995)

Synonyms, misspellings, wrong determinations, etc.:
Pap.[ilio] polidamas Lezzolo in Prunner, 1798. Type locality: France, Alpes-Maritimes, Provence, Nice. Junior primary homonym of Papilio polydamas (= Battus polydamas) Linné, 1758.
P.[apilio] A. polychaon Loche, 1801. Type locality: France, Alpes Maritimes, aux environs de Lantosca dans le Compté de Nice. Junior subjective synonym of Papilio alexanor alexanor Esper, 1800.
Papilio alexanor radighierii Sala & Bollino, 1991. Type locality: Italy, Piemonte, Valdieri (CN), 600-800 m. Junior subjective synonym of Papilio alexanor alexanor Esper, 1800.
Papilio alexanor destelensis Nel & Chauliac, 1983. Type locality: France, Var, près de Toulon, Sainte-Anne-d´Evenos, alt. 300 m. Junior subjective synonym of Papilio alexanor alexanor Esper, 1800.
Papilio alexanor eitschbergeri Bollino & Sala, 1992. Type locality: Greece, Samos Island, Manolates, mt. 700. Subspecies.
Papilio alexanor atticus Verity, [1911]. Type locality: Greece, Attika. Subspecies.
Papilio alexanor graecus Schmidt, 1989. Type locality: Greece, Arachova, 940 m. Junior subjective synonym of Papilio alexanor atticus Verity, [1911].
Papilio Alexanor var. judaeus Staudinger, 1894. Replacement name for Papilio alexanor maccabaeus Staudinger, 1891. Subspecies.
Papilio alexanor var. maccabaeus Staudinger, 1892. Type locality: Israel, near Jerusalem. Junior primary homonym of Papilio maccabaeus Herbst, 1796 (= Erebia manto ([Denis & Schiffermüller], 1775)) and Papilio macareus maccabaeus Staudinger, 1889 (= Graphium macareus palawanicola (Koçak, 1980)).
Papilio alexanor var. orientalis Romanoff, 1884. Type locality: Armenia, aux environs d´Ordoubad. Subspecies.
Papilio alexanor hazarajatica Wyatt, 1961. Type locality: Afghanistan, Joshanak Valley, S. of Band-i-Amir, W. Koh-i-Baba Mts., 9500 ft. Junior subjective synonym of Papilio alexanor orientalis Romanoff, 1884.
Papilio alexanor voldemar Kreuzberg, 1989. Type locality: Uzbekskaja SSR, Karzhantau mountain range, Aktash valley, 1200 m. Subspecies ?.

Papilio alexanor has been proposed by Esper (1800) as replacement name for Papilio polidamas Lezzolo in Prunner (1798: 69), which is a junior primary homonym of Papilio polydamas (= Battus polydamas) Linné, 1758: "Es hat ihn bereits Hr. Graf Excoffier de Lezzolo, nach obiger Anzeige, unter den Nahmen des P. Polidamas beschrieben. Da dieser schon an einen Ausländer vergeben war; so hatte ich eine Aenderung anzugehen, und die vorgesetzte Benennung gewählt." (Esper 1800).



P. alexanor atticus : Greece, Peloponnesos, Taygetos, Kambos, 1999.05.19, leg. Puchmayr/Kurz, coll. Michael Kurz P. alexanor atticus : Greece P. alexanor orientalis : Armenia P. alexanor atticus : Greece
Picture from: Kurz Michael
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P. alexanor orientalis : Armenia P. alexanor eitschbergeri : Turkey P. alexanor atticus underside: Greece, Peloponnesos, Taygetos, Kambos, 1999.05.19, leg. Puchmayr/Kurz, coll. Michael Kurz  
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Picture from: www.ebay.at: © galijotas
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Picture from: Kurz Michael
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Description of adults: Examined: 1 of ssp. atticus, photos of and of ssp. atticus and ssp. orientalis. Wingspan: apr. 60 - 80 mm. Head black-brown, vestiture of hair-like scales on the head distant, medially black, laterally sulphur yellow; neck with short, black hair-like scales, laterally sulphur yellow; antennae slightly more than 2/5 of forewing length, black, tip of antennae whitish-brown; thorax with scarse, but long hair-like scales, which are shorter anteriorly, blackish medially, yellow laterally and black again at wing base; wing upperside sulphur yellow with black markings: forewings at base and most of costa black; an outwardly oblique cross-fascia from 1/4 of costa to 1/2 of inner margin; broad black cross-wise spots at 2/3 of cell length and at cell end; a broad black, inwardly yellowish lightened postdiscal fascia, parallel to outer margin across the whole wing width; a narrower, parallel, sulphur yellow submarginal fascia, crossed by black veins; outer margin narrow black; hindwing at base and along 3/4 of inner margin black; a narrow black cross-fascia from 1/2 of costa straight to 3/4 of inner margin; an elongate black spot at end of cell; a black postdiscal fascia, narrow at costa, increasingly broader towards inner margin, with undulating margins, its inner margin nearly rectangular turning to inner margin of wing, inwardly light blueish mottled and at tornal angle encompassing an orange-yellow eye-like spot; submarginally a moderately broad, undulating, sulphur-yellow fascia; the undulating outer margin black, likewise the moderately short tails at M3; underside similar to upperside, but ground colour lighter and black markings mostly lightened whitish-yellow inwardly; thorax at underside with long yellow hair-like scales, legs black; tibiae and hindtarsi whitish-yellow anteriorly; abdomen with hair-like scales, short at upperside, longer at underside, upperside black, laterally sulphur-yellow, underside black again.

Variability: are generally lighter in ground colour and larger in size. Some subspecies, e.g. orientalis are also lighter in ground colour, with wings somewhat higher and shorter in shape and the postdiscal, blueish mottled fascia at the hindwing distinctly broader.


The species is locally distributed in southeastern France, the adjoining part of Italy, in Sicily, along the Croatian and Albanian coast, as well as in some areas of Macedonia and Greece. Furthermore it is found from Turkey throughout the near and middle East to central Asia and western Pakistan (Tolman & Lewington 1998, Häuser et al. 2005). In the mountains exceptionally it reaches a height of 1700 m, but normally does not exceed 1100 m (Tolman & Lewington 1998). In Afghanistan however, the species reaches a height of more than 3000 m a.s.l. (9500 ft. see under synonymy).


Greece, Peloponnesos, ravine near Kambos, 1999.05.29      
Picture from: Kurz Michael
Detailed view

P. alexanor inhabits hot and dry calcareous slopes in open habitats. Originally, it probably came from steppes and semi-desserts in the irano-turanic region into the Mediterranean area in a former steppe-like period and survived at suitable localities (Hesselbarth et al. 1995). It flies in one extended generation from mid April till mid July, depending on the altitude and probably correlated with the development of inflorescences of the larval foodplants. At a given locality, the flight time only last 3-4 weeks (Hesselbarth et al. 1995).
Imagines are very devotedly to their habitat. They are often gliding elegantly and in the late morning, males can be observed "hill-topping" (Hesselbarth et al. 1995). A preferred source for nectar is Centranthus ruber (Tolman & Lewington 1998), but also different kinds of thistles, Vicia ? cracca, Anchusa-, Echium- and Scabiosa-species are visited regularly (Hesselbarth et al. 1995, pers. observation). Copulation takes places around noon. Eggs are deposited individually, often on plants along linear ground structures, the females flying in a zick-zack-course from plant to plant and eventually coming back to the same plant (Hesselbarth et al. 1995).

Stages in development:

Description of early stages following Tolman & Lewington (1998) and Hesselbarth et al. (1995):

Egg. The eggs are laid on a few species of Apiaceae, mostly on the stem or calyx of the blossoms, but also on the tips of filamentous leaves. Preferred foodplants are Ferula-species. The egg is globular, dirty-green, thin-walled. The surface is smooth, except for the pole, which consists of 8 crests of penta- to polygonal combs. Outwardly, the net-like sculpture gets lost in the smooth, slightly humpy surface. Individual combs are characterised by high and thin walls. 6-8 Micropyles with big lumen are centered in the rosette.

Larva. Larvae hatch within a few days. Initially, they are light yolk-yellow, somewhat glossy, with slight mottling. Later, the ground colour becomes whitish-yellow, with big black spots dorsally, laterally and above the feet, interspaced with yolk-yellow spots on each segment. Immidiately after hatching, they begin feeding. The larvae feed preferably on the blossoms and young fruits, especially of Ferula sp., but also on Heptaptera-sp. and Opopanax hispidus. Since Ferula develops an inflorescence only after sufficient rain, there seems to be a correlation between the abundance of butterflies and the amount of rain in the foregoing winter. Leaf sheaths, developed by Ferula, but not by Opopanax hispidus at the base of the umbel, are preferred sites for moulting. If several larvae feed on the same plant, cannibalism may occur after blossoms and seeds have been consumed. Pupation takes place at sunny locations on the ground between stones. Mostly, the larva orients itself horizontally before pupation.

Pupa. The pupa is somewhat flat with lateral edges, light grey to blackish or dark greyish brown, therefore being camouflaged perfectly between the stones. The pupa overwinters, sometimes being in diapause for up to 3 years, depending on the climate (see above).

Parasites: As a larval-pupal parasite, Trogus lapidator (Fabricius, 1787) has been identified.


-genitalia: France, Basses Alpes      
Picture from: © Higgins 1975, modified
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genitalia (Higgins 1975, based on typical ssp). "Supra-uncus blunt, downturned; valve small, harpe expanded into a wide curve and serrated all round; penis short, curved to a right angle; furca short and wide."


P. alexanor : Greece, Peloponnesos, Taygetos, Kambos, 1999.05.19, leg. Puchmayr/Kurz, coll. Michael Kurz P. machaon : Salzburg, Flachgau, Thalgau, Thalgauegg, 1980.08.21, coll. Michael Kurz P. saharae : Morocco P. hospiton : without data
Picture from: Kurz Michael
Detailed view
Picture from: Kurz Michael
Detailed view
Picture from: wikimedia commons: Notafly (creative commons), modified
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Picture from: wikimedia commons: Sarefo (GNU Free Documentation license), modified
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I. podalirius : Styria, southeastern uplands, near Feldbach, Gossendorf, 1977.07.24, leg. M.Pfeiler, coll. Michael Kurz      
Picture from: Kurz Michael
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The yellow swallowtails Papilio machaon Linné, 1758, Papilio saharae Oberthür, 1879 and Papilio hospiton Gené, 1839 can be distinguished easily by the black wing markings, especially by the lack of a black transverse fascia in the basal half of the hindwing. The similarly marked Iphiclides podalirius Linné, 1758 has the ground colour much lighter creamy-white, with much longer tails on the hindwings.


Chromosome number (haploid): 30 (Higgins, 1975).

Worth knowing:

At the sometimes very local sites in southern France and neighbouring Italy, but also in Turkey, Israel and Jordan, P. alexanor is at risk by bush encroachment and reforestation, overgrazing and intensification of agriculture.


de Prunner, L. 1798. Lepidoptera Pedemontana illustrata a Leonardo de Prunner, excudebat M. Guaita, 124 pp.
Esper, E. J. C. [1800]. Die Schmetterlinge in Abbildungen nach der Natur mit Beschreibungen von Eugenius Johann Christoph Esper. Supplement: 120 pp.
Häuser, C. L., J. Holstein & A. Steiner 2005. The Global Butterfly Information System. http://www.globis.insects-online.de. Last updated 14.04.2011 [online 26 March 2014].
Hesselbarth, G., H. van Oorschot & S. Wagener 1995. Die Tagfalter der Türkei. 1. 754 pp. Bocholt, Selbstverlag Sigbert Wagener.
Higgins, L. 1975. The Classification of European Butterflies, Collins, London.
Tolman T. & R. Lewington 1998. Die Tagfalter Europas und Nordwestafrikas, übersetzt von M. Nuß, Franckh-Kosmos Verlags-GmbH & Co., Stuttgart.

Publication data:

Kurz Michael: 2006.01.13
Kurz Michael: 2006.01.15
Kurz Michael: 2011.10.07
Kurz Michael: 2013.01.28
Kurz Michael: 2013.01.29
Kurz Michael: 2013.02.05
Kurz Michael: 2014.03.26
Kurz Michael: 2014.04.02
Kurz Michael: 2014.04.03
Kurz Michael: 2014.05.14
not reviewed