The black swallowtail has a wingspan of 8 to 11 cm. The upper surface of the wings is mostly black. On the inner edge of the hindwing is a black spot centered in larger orange spot. A male of this species has a yellow band near edge of wings; a female has row of yellow spots. The hindwing of the female has an iridescent blue band. The black swallowtail pupae may be green or brown, but not depending on surroundings or what they have pupated on. The color of the chrysalis is determined by a local genetic balance that ensures the majority of pupae will blend in.
They are usually found in open areas like fields, parks, marshes or deserts, and they prefer tropical or temperate habitats. The caterpillar are often found on parsley in gardens.