Papilio dardanus (the flying handkerchief, mocker swallowtail)

Papilio dardanus, is an African butterfly with several common names including 

  • the flying handkerchief
  • mocker swallowtail

has been called “the most interesting butterfly in the world” (Poulton, 1924).

The female of the species is a master of protective disguise. The female forms are remarkably diverse and mimic other butterflies, so protecting themselves against predators.

Many of the at least 14 female forms mimic inedible butterflies.

Species detail

In contrast, males, which look very different from females, are truly monomorphic and non-mimetic.

  • Papilio dardanus
    Research projects

    Get information about past and current research carried out to better understand this fascinating butterfly.

  • Male Papilio dardanus
    Geographic variation

    Learn how the geographic variation of Papilio dardanus has led to the species being divided into subspecies.

  • Papilio dardanus - leighi
    Distribution and habitat

    Discover the areas of the world where you can find Papilio dardanus, the type of habitat it typically lives in and what threatens it.

  • Papilio dardanus - white lamborni

    Find out the approximate size of the adult Papilio dardanus and learn about the various stages of its complete metamorphosis.

  • Papilio dardanus - bright poultoni

    Find out about the interesting mimicking behaviour of Papilio dardanus.

  • Male Papilio dardanus

    Get reference material for Papilio dardanus.


The varying forms of Papilio dardanus

Many of the female forms of Papilio dardanus, of which there are at least 14, mimic inedible butterflies.

Papilio dardanus

Scientists have been studying Papilio dardanus for almost a century, trying to understand its morphological diversification and the genetics underlying it.

Male Papilio dardanus

Male Papilio dardanus. Males are truly monomorphic and non-mimetic.

Papilio dardanus - leighi.

Papilio dardanus - leighi.

Papilio dardanus - white lamborni.

Papilio dardanus - white lamborni.

Papilio dardanus - bright poultoni.

Papilio dardanus - bright poultoni.

Papilio dardanus - proto planemoides.

Papilio dardanus - proto planemoides.

Male Papilio dardanus.

Male Papilio dardanus.