GIANT SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLY

Post last updated: August 3rd, 2020

Butterfly Giant Swallowtail-1788

 

The Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) ranges from southern New England across the northern Great Lakes states, the southern Central Plains, south and southwest in the United States and on through Mexico to Central and South America. Common throughout Florida, it can be seen all year in south Florida.

 

HABITAT

Deciduous forests, residential gardens and citrus groves.

 

APPEARANCE

 

The upper surface of wings and body is brownish-black with a line of yellow spots going across the wingspan from edge to edge and another “V” shaped line of yellow spots below that line.

The underside of wings is more attractive than the upper wings – pale yellow, veins streaked with black, blue and orange spots. The abdomen is pale yellow.

The average wingspan is 5.5 inches for males and 5.8 inches for females.

 

Giant Swallowtail-1786-1

 

Giant Swallowtail-1790

 

LIFE CYCLE

The life cycle takes about 2 months. The female lays round, orange-peel colored eggs on the surface of green leaves. The egg stage lasts for 4 to 10 days.

Giant Swallowtail round egg in center of photo
Giant Swallowtail egg in center of photo; Photo by Cee

The caterpillar goes through five stages (called instars) over a period of 3 to 4 weeks. Their appearance changes during the stages. This is another caterpillar that looks like a giant blotch of bird droppings — browns, whites, grays — all blending into the branch of citrus trees. It is actually considered a minor pest of sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) that can defoliate young, potted citrus plants.

 

Giant Swallowtail caterpillar
Giant Swallowtail caterpillar – Can you see the cat face I see?
Photo by Cee

 

photo of Giant Swallowtail Caterpillar. It looks like birdpoop - charcoal and white.
Giant Swallowtail Caterpillar. Photo by Cee.

 

The chrysalis stage lasts 10 to 20 days. Monarchs and the gulf fritillary, attach their chrysalis at only one spot with a silk button whereas swallowtails attach themselves in two places with silk. At the top with a single thread and at the bottom with a button. It’s called a girdle.

 

Giant Swallowtail chrysalis
Giant Swallowtail chrysalis
Photo by Cee

 

As an adult, the Giant Swallowtail will live 6 to 14 days producing 2 or three broods.

 

Giant Swallowtail in screened corner of a butterfly house
Newly hatched Giant Swallowtail that over-wintered in its chrysalis in Cee’s butterfly house. See the post DIY BUTTERFLY HOUSE on this blog. Photo by Cee.

WHAT TO PLANT FOR THE GIANT SWALLOWTAIL

Host Plants – Citrus trees, Northern Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum americanum P. Mill.), Rue (Ruta graveolens), Wafer Ash or Common Hoptree (Patellae trifoliata).

Nectar Plants — Bouncing Bet or Soap Weed (Saponaria officinalis), Azalea (Ericaceae), Bougainvillea (Bougainvillea), Dame’s Rocket (Ericaceae) [caution: it can be invasive], Goldenrod (Solidago), Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), and Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias Incarnata).

 

4 thoughts on “GIANT SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLY”

  1. I chatted with a garden friend who is quite the gal in the butterfly garden. She says you can prune your firebush any time…now, though , you may cut off flowers which attract the butterflies. You make the choice.
    Love these butterfly blogs!!
    Becky

    1. Becky – Thanks for coming back with an answer to my question. My firebush isn’t blooming. I’ve got more butterfly posts coming because I took so many photos this summer so I’m doing a little blurb on each butterfly.

  2. The first time I saw what I thought was a Giant Swallowtail but not as large as I expected, it was a Palamedes, pointed out by someone who knew about these things.

    Your photos look like Giants. In my garden they are only barely larger than Tigers, but definitely bigger than Pipevine and Black and Spicebush Swallowtails.

    If you want seeds for Esperanza and Caesalpinia, I’ll have them later on.

    1. Nell Jean – I was going to do a post on palamedes but the more I look at my photos and compare them with the only GOOD butterfly book I can find at the library (Butterflies of North America by Jim P. Brock and Kenn Kaufman), I think my palamedes (side shots) are the black version of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Once I finally decide, I’ll just go back and “fix” my Tiger post. Sometimes, the only way you can tell is to look at the body of the butterfly. Seed swapping sounds like fun!

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