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Giant Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio cresphontes)


Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Giant Swallowtail Butterfly



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The grand Giant Swallowtail is a large North American butterfly that never fails to make an impression.



Updated: 04/21/2021; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
This is the largest species of butterfly in North America. The Giant Swallowtail is enormous when it comes to butterflies. Seeing one may just be something to remember for a lifetime. Wingspans can be as wide as 19 cm (almost 7.5 inches). The top (dorsal) side of the butterfly is mostly black. A bright yellow bar stretches from across the forewings, tip to tip. A second diagonal band on each wing crosses it. This striking pattern is visible when the wings are resting flat. The color under the wings is primarily yellow. A black band crossed the center of the wing, and it is studded with light blue crescents. A rusty red patch sits in the center of the wing. An orange and blue eyespot sits at the inner edge of each hindwing. Like all Swallowtails, the Giant Swallowtail has an extension, or tail, at the bottom edge of each hindwing. It is black with a small yellow oval at the tip.

Adults drink flower nectar from a variety of plants. Milkweed, honeysuckle, azaleas, and lantana are popular places to find them. Comfortable in both developed and undeveloped areas, they can be found in residential flower gardens, managed citrus groves, and at the edges of forests. They are great pollinators and, for that reason, are very beneficial to have in the garden.

Orange spherical eggs are laid on study parts of a host plant. The caterpillar is orange, black, white, and brown and has been called an "orange dog". It could easily be mistaken as bird droppings on a leaf. A red osmeterium at the head resembles a forked tongue or antennae. This has a pungent odor that wards off would-be predators. They tend to enjoy eating the leaves of citrus trees like oranges and lemons, and are common in Florida. Because of that, citrus farmers consider them a pest.

In warmer, southern areas, many generations can exist in one year. They are active year-round, but less likely to be seen in the middle of winter. They fly at heights close to human heads and higher as opposed to low to the ground.




General Characteristics
Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon
Helpful insect icon




Taxonomic Hierarchy
Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Lepidoptera
        Family: Papilionidae
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          Genus: Papilio
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            Species: cresphontes
Identifying Information
Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Papilio cresphontes
Category: Butterfly or Moth
Size (Adult; Length): 86mm to 140mm (3.38" to 5.51")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: black; yellow; orange; blue
Descriptors: flying, tails, helpful

Giant-Swallowtail-Butterfly Video(s)




An Orangedog sticks its 'tongue' out.
Relative Size Comparison
Typical Size Between 86mm (3.4in) and 140mm (5.5in)
Lo: 86mm
Md: 113mm
Hi: 140mm
Territorial Map*
U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Territory map graphic of the country of Mexico
Contiguous United States shape map layer graphic
Alaska  
Hawaii  
Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Giant Swallowtail Butterfly may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Giant Swallowtail Butterfly. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.

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