Giant Swallowtail – Papilio cresphontes

Giant Swallowtail butterflies are one of the largest species in the US. They are found in states east of the Continental Divide as well as in the southern part of the western US.

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Papilio cresphontes

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly
Papilio cresphontes
Mexican Flame Vine

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Papilio cresphontes

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly
Papilio cresphontes
Pentas Bloom

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Papilio cresphontes

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly
Eggs and Hatchling Caterpillar
Papilio cresphontes

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillar Papilio cresphontes

Giant Swallowtail
Butterfly Caterpillar
Papilio cresphontes

Small Caterpillar Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Papilio cresphontes

Small Caterpillar
Giant Swallowtail Butterfly
Papilio cresphontes

Older Caterpillar Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Papilio cresphontes

Older Caterpillar Just Molted
Giant Swallowtail Butterfly
Papilio cresphontes

Caterpillar Eating Wild Lime Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Papilio cresphontes

Caterpillar Eating Wild Lime
Giant Swallowtail Butterfly
Papilio cresphontes

Red Osmeterium Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Papilio cresphontes

Red Osmeterium
Giant Swallowtail Butterfly
Papilio cresphontes

J'ing Caterpillar (pre-pupa) Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Papilio cresphontes

J’ing Caterpillar (pre-pupa)
Giant Swallowtail Butterfly
Papilio cresphontes

Pupating Caterpillar / Chrysalis Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Papilio cresphontes

Pupating Caterpillar / Chrysalis
Giant Swallowtail Butterfly
Papilio cresphontes

Hardened Chrysalis Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Papilio cresphontes

Hardened Chrysalis
Giant Swallowtail Butterfly
Papilio cresphontes

Chrysalis 'Girdle' Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Papilio cresphontes

Chrysalis ‘Girdle’
Giant Swallowtail Butterfly
Papilio cresphontes

Giant Swallowtail Caterpillars Hercules' Club  Papilio cresphontes

Giant Swallowtail Caterpillars
Hercules’ Club
Papilio cresphontes

Hercules' Club Tree Thorns Zanthoxylum clava-herculis

Hercules’ Club Tree Thorns
Zanthoxylum clava-herculis

Hop Tree Ptelea trifoliata

Hop Tree
Ptelea trifoliata
Giant Swallowtail Host

These butterflies lay eggs on plants in the citrus family; orange, grapefruit, kumkuat, etc. Along with trees that come to mind when we think of the word ‘citrus’, they eat plants such as Hercules’ Club, Hop Tree, and Prickly Ash.

They, like Black Swallowtail butterflies, also lay eggs on rue. If you have both Black Swallowtail and Giant Swallowtail butterflies laying eggs on rue, it can be handy to know that Giant Swallowtail eggs are orange/rust in color while Black Swallowtail eggs are cream/white in color.

When raising these caterpillars, remember that they rarely, if ever, move from citrus leaves to Rue. They normally will starve to death. They simply do not recognize Rue as food after eating citrus.

The caterpillars are called ‘Orange Dogs’ because of their occurrence on orange trees. It is one of the few butterflies that have a separate name for the caterpillar. There are several moths that have two names, like the ‘Hickory Horned Devil caterpillar’ and ‘Regal Moth’ as names for the same moth.

The young caterpillars look much like wet bird droppings. Older caterpillars looks like dry bird/lizard/critter poop. Of course one of the best reasons to look like poop is the fact that few critters eat bird poop.

The osmeterium of the Giant Swallowtail caterpillar is red. When the caterpillar is disturbed, it quickly bends backward, extends its osmeterium, and touches whatever is touching it. The osmeterium has an odorous liquid on it.

Before pupating, caterpillars empty their digestive tracts. Swallowtail caterpillars tend to have a ‘frass dump’ (the last expelled excrement of a caterpillar before it pupates) that is runny and somewhat pudding textured.

Swallowtail caterpillars prepare to pupate by attaching themselves by making a silk pad and button on an object. It crawls onto the pad and attaches its anal prolegs into the button. It then makes a silk girdle by touching its head down to the object, side to side, many times over. Each time it leaves a strand of silk. The strands together make a strong girdle that holds the butterfly caterpillar.

When the caterpillar pupates, its old cuticle simply slips under the girdle and slips off the caterpillar. The ‘skinned’ caterpillar is the chrysalis.

After two or more weeks, the adult butterfly emerges.

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