Giant Swallowtail Butterfly

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Coloration and Size

The Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) is the largest of all North American butterflies although female Tiger Swallowtails approach the same size.

Both male and female have dark brown wings with yellow markings, including a large horizontal yellow strip across the wings. The underside and body are mostly yellow.

Its size is typically in the 4.0" - 6.0" range.

Giant Swallowtail Distribution and Habitat

This swallowtail ranges throughout much of the Eastern United States, and is less common in the American Southwest and southern California. It typically stays close to wooded areas, and close to the ground. In a typical year 2-3 broods are produced.

It can often be found in woodland areas and residential gardens.

Nectar and Host Plants Used by the Giant Swallowtail

Some of the favorite nectar plants of the Giant Swallowtail are Milkweed, Lantana, Butterfly Bush, Zinnias, and many others.

Favorite host plants include Hercules Club (or Devil's Walkingstick), prickly ash, citrus, lime, herb rue, hoptree, and wild lime.

Hercules Club grows wild in the woods behind our home, reaching heights of 20 feet or more. It spreads underground, sprouting lots of other plants. Its blooms attract bees and other insects, and its seeds are a favorite of many birds in the fall. We think this is the plant on which our Giant Swallowtails lay their eggs.

Giant Swallowtail Life Cycle: Stages and Times

Stage Typical Duration
Egg stage Generally 4 to 10 days, depending on temperature and host plant
Caterpillar (larval) stage 3 to 4 weeks
Chrysalis (pupal) stage 10 to 20 days (except for overwintering pupae)
Adult butterfly stage 6 to 14 days

 

Photos of Giant Swallowtail Butterflies

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly feeding on Milkweed (8/3/2014)
Giant Swallowtail Butterfly


Giant Swallowtail Butterfly (8/5/2014)

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly


Giant Swallowtail Butterfly competing for feeding time on Milkweed (8/3/2014)

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly



Giant Swallowtail Butterfly, missing its right tail, feeding on Verbena
Giant Swallowtail Butterfly, missing its right tail, feeding on Verbena


Giant Swallowtail Butterfly

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly


Giant Swallowtail Butterfly

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly


Giant Swallowtail Butterfly, close-up, on Milkweed

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly


A pair of Giant Swallowtail Butterflies

A pair of Giant Swallowtail Butterflies near Tyler Texas


Giant Swallowtail Butterfly (ventral view) on Purple Verbena

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly (ventral view) on Purple Verbena


A pair of Giant Swallowtail Butterflies on orange Lantana

A pair of Giant Swallowtail Butterflies on orange Lantana in Texas


Giant Swallowtail on Pink Zinnia

Giant Swallowtail on Pink Zinnia


Giant Swallowtail without its left tail, resting in the shade of the woods

Giant Swallowtail without its left tail, resting in the shade of the woods

Giant Swallowtail doing a balancing act on a pink zinnia
Giant Swallowtail doing a balancing act on a pink zinnia


Giant Swallowtail enjoying nectar from a Purple Butterfly Bush

Giant Swallowtail enjoying nectar from a Purple Butterfly Bush



Hercules Club, or Devil's Walkingstick, a host plant for the Giant Swallowtail, growing in the woods
Hercules Club or Devil's Walkingstick growing in the East Texas woods