The Giant Swallowtail Butterfly

The Giant Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio cresphontes) is the largest butterfly occurring in the United States, with a wingspan that can reach 6″.  The larvae are sometimes called ‘Orange Dogs’ due to their host plants being members of the Citrus (Rutaceae) family.  They also feed on noncommercial members of this family, including a Florida native, Wild Lime (Zanthoxylum fagara).  Common Rue (Ruta graveolens), an herb in the citrus family is also a host to this butterfly.  Females lay single eggs on the top of leaves, and when they hatch, the larvae resemble bird droppings.  They feed right in the middle of the upper surface of the leaf, and since they resemble a bird dropping, they avoid predation.  As the larvae age, their appearance changes to somewhat resemble a snake head which is the color of the branches of the tree, and camoflages them nicely.  If a bird or lizard should get close to them, they protrude a forked orange scent gland called an osmeterium, resembling a snake’s tongue, which emits a foul smell, to deter any predator.  Finally, the chrysalis is also well camoflaged, resembling a small twig.

Papilio cresphontes on Cestrum aurantiacum (Giant Swallowtail Butterfly on Yellow Jasmine)

Papilio cresphontes egg on Zanthoxylum fagara (Giant Swallowtail Egg on Wild Lime Tree)

Papilio cresphontes larva on Zanthoxylum fagara (Giant Swallowtail Larva on Wild Lime Tree)

Papilio cresphontes larva on Zanthoxylum fagara (Giant Swallowtail Larva on Wild Lime)

Papilio cresphontes larva on Zanthoxylum fagara (Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Larva on Wild Lime Tree)

Papilio cresphontes larva on Zanthoxylum fagara (Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Larva on Wild Lime Tree)

Papilio cresphontes larva on Zanthoxylum fagara (Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Larva on Wild Lime Tree)

Papilio cresphontes larva on Zanthoxylum fagara (Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Larva on Wild Lime Tree)

Papilio cresphontes larva showing its red osmeterium on Zanthoxylum fagara (Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Larva on Wild Lime Tree)

Papilio cresphontes chrysalis on Zanthoxylum fagara (Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Chrysalis on Wild Lime)

Papilio cresphontes chrysalis on Zanthoxylum fagara (Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Chrysalis on Wild Lime)

Ruta graveolens (Common Rue)

Zanthoxylum fagara (Wild Lime)

Zanthoxylum fagara (Wild Lime)

Papilio cresphontes on Bauhinia divaricata (Giant Swallowtail Butterfly on Butterfly Orchid Tree)

 

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