Giant Swallowtail

I stood looking out the picture window in my computer room. A large brown and yellow butterfly flitted around the backyard, relatively close to the house. Almost nothing blooms because of the drought, offering no nectar sources to catch its attention. It continued on south.

Obviously, I didn’t get a good look at the hurrying butterfly. These pictures refreshed memories of past sightings.

Giant swallowtails (Papilio cresphontes) are one of my favorite butterflies. Their large size (wingspan to 5.5 inches) and dramatic coloring make each sighting an experience. They usually flutter their wings as they feed.

They are 1 of the 6 species of swallowtail butterflies in Illinois. The others include: pipevine swallowtail, zebra swallowtail, black swallowtail, tiger swallowtail and spicebush swallowtail. The giant swallowtail caterpillars feed on hop trees in our area, on prickly ash in the northern part of its range, and on orange trees in the south. Here they can be a pest.

My mother has 2 fraxinella plants growing in her garden. The giant swallowtails also lay eggs on them. It poses a problem: the plants are small and are a family heirloom. The caterpillars grow to impressive proportions. The brown and white caterpillars mimic bird droppings (and quite effectively, I might add).

I hope I’m at in the right place at the right time to see any others that visit my yard.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Therese on July 27, 2012 at 10:45 am

    Thanks for the information….very interesting. Your pictures should be in magazines and books. Amazing! They look like I can reach out and touch them.


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