Giant Swallowtail Butterfly
(Order Lepidoptera; Family Papilionidae)
Papilio Cresphontes, (photo by Christopher Nguyen)
(Kansas: Sedgwick County. Residential House, 37° 40' 40.06"N, 97° 10' 27.94"W. In garden. September 19, 2011.
Adult Diagnosis: The Giant Swallowtail Butterfly is the largest butterfly species of Canada and the United States with a wingspan within the ranges of 10 to 16 cm. The wings are colored black or blackish brown and feature yellow banding on both the fore and hind wing dorsally. On the ventral side, the wings are mainly yellow with black venation. 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.
Papilio Cresphontes Dorsal wing view (Photographed by Robert A. Behrstock: http://www.naba.org/chapters/nabast/giant.html)
Papilio Cresphontes. Ventral wing view (Photographed by B. Bouton: http://www.naba.org/chapters/nabast/giant.html)
Adult Natural History: Adult Swallowtails take in nectar from multiple floral sources for example, goldenrods and azaleas. Males patrol pine woods during the afternoon in search of mates to court or copulate with. Can also be found patrolling citrus groves for the same reasons. They can glide long distances before needing to beat their wings again. The following video shows the length of their glide before having to flap again.
Mates copulate facing away from each other so that the genitals face each other. Females oviposit caramel colored eggs usually on the topsides of leaves. Giant Swallowtail caterpillars visually appear much like large bird droppings on plants. If predators are not fooled by their appearance, the caterpillars can extend their V-shaped osmeterium and release a foul odor to drive away predators.
The migration pattern is similar to that of Monarch Butterflies, Giant Swallowtails from the North migrate Southwards during the cold seasons.
Distribution: The Giant Swallowtails is spread throughout North America including parts of Canada and as far South as Central and parts of South America. In the United States, sights have been reported mostly in the South Central and South Eastern parts of the United States and appearing all year round in Florida.
Distribution of Papilio Cresphontes in the United States. (Map found at:http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Papilio-cresphontes)
Habitat: Adults can be found in pine forests and in floral gardens for Northern inhabitants. Southern adults prefer to live in citrus groves along with the aformentioned habitats.
Diet: Adults feed on the nectars of many flowers including those of goldenrods, azaleas, bourgainvilla, swamp milkweed, etc. Larvae preferrably feed on the leaves of citrus trees and plants.
Conservation Status: Stable
The Firefly Forest. Information
Butterflies and Moths of North America. Photo
BugGuide. Information and Photos
Stokes, Donald, Lillian Stokes, and Ernest Williams. Stokes Butterfly Book: The Complete Guide to Butterfly Gardening Identification, and Behavior. 1st Ed. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1991.
Latimer, Jonathan P., and Karen S. Nolting. Butterflies. 1st Ed. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.
Schappert, Philip. A World of Butterflies: Their Lives, Behavior, and Future. 1st Ed. Ontario: Firefly Books Ltd, 2005.
Submitted by Christopher Nguyen, November 2011