Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Giant Swallowtail

I’ve been disappointed by the lack of swallowtail butterflies this summer. Swallowtail numbers are still almost nonexistent, but I did have a brief encounter with one of my favorites. This is the Giant Swallowtail, Papilio cresphontes, the largest of our Ohio swallowtails.

This is an active, fast flying butterfly. It’s a lot of fun to watch as it zooms over a field of flowers, dropping here and there to take some nectar. It’s a frustrating butterfly if you’re trying to get a picture.

It flutters its forewings constantly. I’ve got a large collection of shots that look like the butterfly tied its wings up in a hair ribbon. The hind wings are relatively motionless and are not as difficult to capture.

Same thing from the side. Despite the inadequacies of the photographer, the model is still gorgeous.

I see several of these butterflies each year, but they’re always on the move and it’s usually a here it comes, there it goes type of encounter. I was really happy to have one stick around for this many shots.

The host plant of the Giant Swallowtail is the Prickly Ash, Zanthoxylum americanum. Prickly Ash is related to the citrus and the tiny fruits have a definite fragrance of oranges.

I found this cluster of eggs on the leaf stem of a Prickly Ash and thought it might be eggs of the Giant Swallowtail. The literature says that Giant Swallowtails lay eggs singly on the top of the leaflets, so these are probably something else. I’ll try to get back and see what these become.


  1. Gorgeous!! I've yet to see a Giant Swallowtail....beautiful captures. Interesting. I'd like to see what the eggs become. They seem to be purple!

  2. Nice find Steve! I love how the underside of the wings is opposite in color to the top side. A real beauty.

  3. Steve- I stumbled across your blog when I Googled treefrog tadpoles and I am glad I found it! I have enjoyed reading your previous posts! Love your photos, especially these of the swallowtail--gorgeous!!! Must admit I have been a bit surprised to find that a lot of the species (flowers, trees, insects, etc) found at BJ Barren are also found in Arkansas.

  4. Kelly - I went back to check on those eggs and found no eggs or larvae. Just some tiny chewed places in the leaves. This is one of those mysteries that will have to be solved another day.

    Heather - I've always been impressed by that contrast between upper and lower wing.

    Michelle - I'm glad you enjoy my posts. A lot of the plants and animals here are southern species surviving at the extreme northern limit of their range. Some are considered endangered species in Ohio, but are extremely common south of here.