Large butterfly with a wingspan up to 6-1/4 inches. Females are slightly larger than males. The wings are dark brown or black. The forewing has a diagonal band of yellow spots; the hindwing has a band of yellow spots, a small orange-capped black spot, and a spatula-shaped tail with a teardrop-shaped yellow spot. The underside of the hindwing is yellow with a blue central band and a small brick-red patch. The abdomen is yellow with a dark brown stripe. The caterpillar has a shiny surface and resembles a bird dropping; it is olive-brown with a dark brown head, scattered small blue spots and three cream-colored patches down the side. The central patch is yellowish and saddle-shaped. The osmeterium is bright red. Giant swallowtail caterpillars are sometimes called "orange dogs" because they can defoliate citrus trees.
Widespread in North America; also parts of Central and South America.
Distribution and Abundance in Florida:
Adults common February-November in most of Florida; all year in South Florida.
Hammocks, pinelands, citrus groves and gardens.
Three or more broods per year. The spherical orange eggs are laid singly on the upper surfaces of the young leaves and twigs of the host plants. They may have an irregular coating of an orange-colored secretion.
Giant swallowtails are strong, leisurely fliers that can glide long distances between wingbeats. Adults rest with their wings open.
Caterpillars feed on the leaves of host plants. Larval host plants include the native black cherry (Prunus serotina), Carolina ash (Fraxinus caroliniana), green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica), sweet-bay (Magnolia virginia), tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera) and white ash (Fraxinus americana). Sweet-bay is the larval host plant in most of Florida. Nectar plants include the native black cherry, joepyeweeds (Eupatorium spp.) and milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) and the nonnative lilac (Syringa vulgaris).