We added a new butterfly species to our yard list this morning.
It was flitting around our red lantana bushes, and sipping nectar from the colorful flowers.
The butterfly was very active - constantly moving and fluttering its wings. It did not alight to sip the nectar, but hovered as it dined.
The butterfly was rather large, with mostly black wings that had rows of yellow spots in bold diagonal bands. Fortunately we had the camera with us, so we could take pictures and consult our Butterfly Guide.
It was a Giant Swallowtail Butterfly, Papilio cresphontes.
They may also range into Central America, parts of the Caribbean, and into southeastern Canada.
Its wingspan can reach up to 6" from tip to tip, making it the largest butterfly in the U.S. and Canada. The large wings give Giant Swallowtail a very strong flight and the ability to glide long distances.
The female Giant Swallowtail lays her orange-colored eggs singly on the selected host plant. About 12 days later the caterpillars hatch out, eating the remains of their egg casing and then heading out in search of food.
The young brown and white caterpillars look like bird droppings, and this camouflage helps protect them from predators. The chrysalis is a very plain mottled brown and looks like a broken twig.
The caterpillars are considered pests in many commercial citrus orchards, where they are referred to as "Orange Dogs". The hungry caterpillars can defoliate potted plants or small trees, damaging the plants and causing reduced crop yield. Providing suitable host plants in your yard can help these butterflies find a safe place to lay their eggs and ensure their offspring have enough to eat. These host plants include the citrus family for laying eggs and caterpillar food (orange, grapefruit, etc.); and lantana and bougainvillea for nectar.
To learn more about the Giant Swallowtail
For general butterfly facts and info:
To purchase butterfly host plants, butterfly life cycle kits, chrysalises and more
visit the Shady Oak Butterfly Farm: