Florida Butterflies~Giant Swallowtail

9 Jan

A Time to Live

Melody Hendrix


The giant swallowtail, Papilio cresphontes Cramer, is a striking, wonderfully “exotic”-looking butterfly that is abundant in Florida.

It is the largest butterfly species in the United States and Canada with a wingspan within the ranges of 4 to 6 inches. The wings are colored black or blackish brown and feature yellow banding on both the fore and hind wing dorsally. Each hind wing tail features a yellow-orange colored eye, the eye can also appear reddish yellow. Another single blue band can be distinguished above the eye. Distinction between males and females is very difficult as both sexes are similar, however, females feature longer wing spans than males as adults. The larval or caterpillar stage is very large and can be considered a pest due to its habit of feeding on the foliage of most Citrus species. They are refered to as “orangedogs” A few can quickly defoliate small or young plants. However, larvae can be tolerated on large dooryard citrus trees in order to enjoy the soon-to-develop magnificent adult butterfly stage
 The giant swallowtail is widely distributed throughout the American continent. Its range extends from southern New England across the northern Great Lakes states, into Ontario, through the southern portions of the Central Plains to the Rocky Mountains. The species ranges southward to Florida and the Caribbean, into the southwestern United States, and on through Mexico to Central and South America.

The giant swallowtail is very common throughout the entire state of Florida. It is active throughout the year in southern Florida, and is common in northern Florida, except in January and February. The giant swallowtail is very distinct from all other swallowtails found in Florida.

Adult butterflies sip nectar from many flowers and are common, but spectacular, visitors to butterfly gardens. Identified nectar sources include azalea, bougainvillea, Japanese honeysuckle, goldenrod, dame’s rocket, bouncing Bet, and swamp milkweed. They may also sip liquid from manure. A collective name for a group of butterflies is called a ‘Kaleidoscope.

Adult males patrol flyways through pine woods or citrus groves searching for females. Flight is very strong and leisurely, and the butterflies may glide long distances between wing beats.

Courtship and copulation occur in the afternoon.

The five larval instars stages differ in appearance but they all share a resemblance to bird droppings. Younger instars are more realistic bird-dropping mimics due to their smaller size. Mature larvae usually rest on stems or leaf petioles, but younger larvae often rest in plain view on the upper surfaces of leaves where bird droppings would be expected.
Below is a newly hatched larva of the giant swallowtail, Papilio cresphontes Cramer.
They are refured to as  “CATS”in this fuzzy instar stage.

 Larvae defend themselves against predators (both insects and vertebrates) and parasitic insects by being less visible through cryptic coloration and pattern like resembling bird droppings.

The larvae possess an osmeterium, an orange or reddish Y-shaped eversible gland that is located mid-dorsally behind the head. When attacked by small predators, the larva extrudes the gland and attempts to wipe it against the attacker. The osmeterium of fourth and fifth instars contains a highly noxious, pungent mixture of chemicals.

The top photo, the caterpillar just shed it’s last skin and attached itself to a stick with silk and sling.

 Below it has become a hardened chrysalis and will go through metamorphasis for about 10 days before emerging into a beautiful butterfly.

Below is a newly emerged Giant Swallowtail. Wings inflated but not dry. Before the wings totally dry, this is a perfect opportunity to effortlessly take beautiful butterfly photos.

Take your photos when there is plenty of light. Shoot many different angles. Use a flash when the sun is behind the butterfly. Otherwise, best with natural light. I will talk more about photographing butterflies later.
Next week we will explore the Gulf Frittilary butterfly.



I am retired and enjoying life. My hobbies are my 5 grandchildren, son and daughter, and my loving husband. I am a photographer and extreme nature lover. I love spending time in my garden or in the wilderness connected to God my Creator.

2 Responses to “Florida Butterflies~Giant Swallowtail”

  1. Louise Gibson August 3, 2018 at 4:28 pm #


    Liked by 1 person

  2. divoran09 January 9, 2018 at 10:12 am #

    Wonderful, thank you.


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