Giant Swallowtail

Giant Swallowtail Caterpillar

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Papilio cresphontes
Papilionidae (swallowtails)

Adult giant swallowtails are the largest butterfly in Missouri. The overall color of wings (top side) and body is dark blackish-brown, with bands composed of several yellow spots. There is a yellow spot at the tip of each hindwing “tail.” The undersides of wings are primarily yellow, with black, blue and red markings. There are yellow stripes on the abdomen.

Larvae vary depending on stage of development. Overall the coloring is brown with grayish-white markings, a patch at the end of the abdomen, and a wide saddle mark of the same color in center of the body. The osmetria (hornlike appendages that protrude when the larva is disturbed) are pinkish or red.

Wingspan: 3 3/4 to 5 1/2 inches.
Habitat and conservation: 
Found in gardens, fields and open woods. Adults are avid flower visitors and are sometimes found at mud puddles. To avoid predation, young stages of larvae resemble bird droppings, and older stages look more like little snakes and are also camouflaged against tree bark.
Larvae feed on a members of the citrus family (Rutaceae); in our state, favorite host trees are hop tree (Ptelea trifoliata) and prickly ash (Xanthoxylum americanum); also reared from gas plant (false dittany; genus Dictamnus). In southern states, the larvae are called “orange dogs” because they are pests on citrus crops.
Distribution in Missouri: 
Breeding resident found in all regions of the state.
Life cycle: 
There are two broods a year, with adults flying from April to October.
Human connections: 
This largest butterfly in Canada and the United States is a welcome, striking visitor in butterfly gardens. In southern states, the larvae are a crop pest in citrus orchards.
Ecosystem connections: 
The caterpillars are herbivores that graze on vegetation. The adults serve a role in pollination. All stages provide food for predators.
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