Last week I spotted a giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes), North America’s largest butterfly.
The swallowtail was resting on an oak-shaded fern. It was missing a lower piece of the right wing. I emailed a picture to Florida butterfly researcher Sandy Koi, who said it appears a reptile had bitten the butterfly.
Giant swallowtail caterpillars, known as orange dogs, have a reputation for being harmful to citrus trees, their major host plants. However, they are unlikely to defoliate trees and actually seem to prefer several native trees related to citrus such as the wild lime (Zanthoxylum fagara) also known as cat’s claw and the spiky-trunked Hercules club (Zanthoxylum clava-herculis) that grows well in our coastal soil. Chewing a leaf of Hercules Club numbs the entire mouth, which is why old-timers called it the toothache tree. The common herb rue (Ruta graevolens), is a host for both the giant swallowtail and the black swallowtail and makes a nice addition to a butterfly garden. Rue likes sun, heat and sandy soil.
Nectar Plants for Giant Swallowtails include, Lantana, Azaleas, Bougainvillea, goldenrod, Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), and swamp milkweed Asclepias incarnata.
Adult males patrol flyways through pine woods or citrus groves searching for females. Flight is very strong and leisurely, and the butterflies may glide long distances between wing beats. Courtship and copulation occur in the afternoon. Want more? See: