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.
The caterpillars feed on the leaves and young shoots of the host plants. Native larval host plants include the cultivated trees common torchwood (Amyris elemifera), Hercules'-club (Zanthoxylum clava-herculis) and wild-lime (Zanthoxylum fagara). Other native host plants include the critically imperiled trees Biscayne prickly-ash (Zanthoxylum coriaceum) and West Indian satinwood (Zanthoxylum flavum). Larvae also feed on cultivated plants in the lime family, including citron (Citrus medica), grapefruit (Citrus x paradisi), Key lime (Citrus x aurantifolia), lemon (Citrus x limon), Mandarin lime (Citrus x limonia), sour orange (Citrus x aurantium), sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) and tangerine (Citrus reticulata) and the parsley family, including celery (Apium graveolens). Native nectar plants include the cultivated trees poisonwood (Metopium toxiferum) and smooth strongback (Bourreria succulenta), the shrubs Florida Keys blackbead (Pithecellobium keyense) and wild-sage (Lantana involucrata), the wildflower swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), and the vine yellowroot (Morinda royoc). Weedy native nectar plants include jack-in-the-bush (Chromolaena odorata). Adults also will nectar on the nonnative common landscape plant paper flower (Bougainvillea glabra), the fruit papaya (Carica papaya), the cultivated nonnative Mexican flamevine (Pseudogynoxys chenopodioides), and the invasive nonnative tree Brazilian-pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius); adults sometimes sip liquid from manure.
Gann, G.D., M.E. Abdo, J.W. Gann, G.D. Gann, Sr., S.W.
Woodmansee, K.A. Bradley, E. Grahl and K.N. Hines. 2005-2016. Natives For Your Neighborhood. http://www.regionalconservation.org.
The Institute for Regional Conservation. Delray Beach, Florida USA.