Eastern Giant Swallowtail

Eastern Giant Swallowtail Papilio cresphontes

Type of Animal:
Swallowtail Butterfly

Woodlands, gardens, general landscape plantings, citrus orchards, citrus groves, deciduous forest, fields, parks, suburbs, rocky/sandy exposed hillsides near streams/gullies, towns, cities, bogs, marshes, swamps, pine flats

E North America w to Rocky Mountains

One of largest butterflies in North America, black wings w/ horizontal yellow line across forewings & diagonal yellow line across hindwing, wing undersides yellow w/ black accents, small red patch on ventral wing. Caterpillars resemble bird/lizard poop-brownish w/ orange tinge. Older caterpillars resemble tiny snakes. Younger caterpillars have hair-like setae while older caterpillars don’t.

Adults eat nectar from milkweed, Lantana, butterfly bush, Zinnia, azalea, bougainvillea, Japanese honeysuckle, goldenrod, dame’s rocket, & bouncing bet as well as manure liquid. Caterpillars eat plants from the citrus (Rutaceae) family.

Status in Wild:

Breeding in butterfly gardens, zoos, aquariums, & museums

Found in small to medium-sized groups

Additional Info:

Young: Caterpillar
Group: Flutter

Male: 0.8-0.9 g
Female: 0.9-1 g

4-10 days

Life Span:
5 weeks-9.5 months

Body Length/Wingspan:
Male: 5.51 in
Female: 5.78 in
Caterpillar: 1-1.4 in

Main predators of adults are birds, reptiles, ants, wasps, snakes, mammals, & amphibians. These plus flies & spiders eat caterpillars & pupae.

Females lay eggs on citrus leaves, w/ eggs hatching after 4-10 days.

Caterpillar stage lasts up to 3 weeks. They go through 5 instars (development phases) before attaching themselves vertically to plant becoming pupae (chrysalis). Chrysalis (pupal) stage lasts 10-20 days (except for overwintering pupae). Overwintering pupae last until transforming into butterflies. Butterfly stage lasts 6-14 days.

Female butterflies die after laying eggs & males die after mating.

Caterpillars use camouflage as well as osmeterial organ to protect from predators. Osmeteria (located behind head) inflates into orange/red Y-shaped growth resembling snake’s forked tongue. 4th & 5th instar osmeteria has bad-smelling toxic acidic mixture.

Males search for females along set flight paths & near host plants.

Males & females mate facing away from each other.

Caterpillars active at night (nocturnal).

They’re very popular in butterfly houses due to beauty & large size.

They’re very strong fliers & can glide long distances.

Each year yields 2-3 generations.

Fun Fact(s):
Caterpillars can cause considerable damage to citrus farms-especially to younger plants. 

Due to love for citrus, caterpillars also called orange dogs or orange puppies. Also called bird poop caterpillars.

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