Giant Swallowtail Butterfly

Mary planted some Butterfly Bushes in front of the living room window and shazam we have butterflies. Highly recommended!

This unusual butterfly came by yesterday. The invaluable Butterflies Through Binoculars identifies it as a Giant Swallowtail Butterfly and says:

  • Similar species: None
  • Range: North to around Philadelphia
  • Comments: Formerly found further north. A colony existed in the 1950s in Dutchess Co., NY.

So either this chap’s range is expanding northward or that colony never quite died out.

34 thoughts on “Giant Swallowtail Butterfly

  1. This looks like the butterfly I saw in my backyard today, Oct. 19, 2009, in Long Beach, California. I identified it as a Thoas Swallowtail which ranges from Central America to southern Texas. No way should it be in California. Go figure.

    1. Hi Natalie. I saw this butterfly in my backyard on June 29, 2011. I think it had recently come out of a coccoon as was drying out its wings. I observed if at various times throughout the morning. The left side still look damp and crinkly – the very tip of its top wing was folded over. I held out my finger and carried it around my yard looking for a good spot for it. Some crows had lighted nearby and I was afraid they might eat it. I set it down on some Allysium and after a few hours it was gone. I had never seen one before. I wish I had the presence of mind to take some photos. Glad you identified it. Darcy Santa Monica, CA

      1. We’ve only very rarely seen butterflies emerging from a chrysalis and drying out their wings; it’s a wonder to behold!

        That bush will bloom in a few weeks and we’re looking forward to more butterflies right outside the window.

        Although I’m not Natalie (perhaps she was in a different tab?), thanks for the update… the world is a better place for having more butterflies!

    1. Alcohol is a must

      Just what we need: drunk and disorderly butterflies getting all rowdy out front! [grin]

  2. Just saw one of these guys working over my petunias. We are well north of Philadelphia, in Salem, NY!

    1. If they’re expanding northward, they’re doing a fine job of it…

      Obviously, they pay no attention whatsoever to the butterfly guidebooks!

  3. Hi I just saw this butterfly in a woodlot near me – its wingspan was about 5 inches. Quite stunning. I am in Burlington Ontario Canada. August 14th 2011.

    1. We’ve seen several this season, too, and always think “Wow, that’s a big butterfly!”

      They’re expanding to the north, bringing delight to everyone along their way…

  4. August 14 2011

    And I just saw the same fellow in my backyard in Pickering Ontario. (@ 45 miles from Burlington). Also @ 5 ” wingspan. I’ve never seen a butterfly so large or fancy here so had to come in and google it. What a treat, cheers everyone :)

  5. Hi, I just saw this butterfly for the first time this morning on my butterfly bush. I live in Woodbridge, CT. Boy, this butter fly is getting around. I have never seen this one before and I have had butterfly bushes at my house for the past 16 years. It was beautiful. I wonder what the caterpillars eat? I used to raise monarch butterflies to help them repopulate. Around here the milkweed is ofter cut down many times during the course of the summer killing the eggs and caterpillars. My kids loved watching them form and emerge from the chrysalis. Does anyone have any information on what the caterpillars eat to be able to be on both coasts which has very different vegetation?

    1. raise monarch butterflies to help them repopulate

      We haven’t seen nearly as many monarchs this year, which is worrisome. They’ve obviously enjoyed the milkweeds around the house, but …

      1. They do tend to have a distinct travel pattern. The only ones I saw at my butterfly bushes were the ones I raised …that is until this year. I was not able to raise any this year, but was encouraged to see so many come for a visit
        . Hopefully my work raising them increased the population of the ones on this travel pattern. You can try doing the same.

    2. Found giant butterflies in my West Los Angeles garden in September. They laid eggs on both a lime tree and a sapote tree. Took five of them inside to protect them and fed them sapote tree leaves after they hatched (they didn’t eat any of the lime leaves proffered.) Now have three chrysalises on our kitchen window frames. Perhaps the first caterpillar out ate two of the eggs–it certainly grew faster than the second and third ones. Wondering how long they’ll hang out with us before “hatching.”

      1. they didn’t eat any of the lime leaves

        That’s what we found with stick insects: they eat only a specific leaf and when it’s not available, they starve.

        Good luck with your hatchlings…

  6. Hi. I saw this same butterfly on my mothers phlox in Ballston Spa, NY on Aug. 18th. I had never seen such a large and distinctive swallowtail before and I am excited to learn that it is a giant swallowtail. I took several pictures of it on my cell phone, of which the one that caught the undrside of the wings is an exact dupicate of the phot shown here. Absolutely stunning butterfly!

  7. Just had one of these fellows honoring me with a nice long visit and was able to take quite a few pictures. I’m in Kitchcener Ontario and my butterfly bush is what attracted him. Wouldn’t doubt that this horrendous heat wave this year is detrimental to them!

  8. We have one of these beautiful insects in our backyard right now (August 3, 2012). She is laying eggs on the leaves of our “pet” grapefruit tree that we started from a seed last winter. We are in Belleville, Ontario, Canada, on the north shore of Lake Ontario.

    1. Go, butterflies, go! With any luck, you can watch those eggs hatch and eventually turn into butterflies again.

      Hey, I’m impressed: a grapefruit tree in Ontario. Surely it commutes indoors for the winter…

      1. Indeed it is a commuting grapefruit tree. The wonder is that it grew from a seed out of a grocery-store grapefruit! They grow about 6 feet tall but never bloom.

  9. Dutchess County NY at Wilderstein Historic site on a bottleneck buckeye 7/26/13 huge and very tame!

    1. Must be their season: we just saw the first one in the front window Butterfly Bush a few days ago!

  10. Observed one this morning on a butterfly bush in Owen Sound Ontario. We are right by the water, the souternmost protion of Georgian Bay, on the western shore of Owen Sound. The Giant Swallowtail was quite striking, easily moving from floret to floret while the winhs kept fluttering. I observed it for about 3 minutes before it flew off. The body was quite large, about the size of a thick dew worm, probably about 3 inched in length, and quite bulbous.

    1. The Butterfly Bush has attracted another group this year; now is definitely their time to shine! I’m glad to hear the group in your area is doing well…

    2. Took a while to identify it, what with the unusual yellow banding. But it appears that a Giant Swallowtail was in our backyard for about 10 minutes this morning. We are in Ottawa, just north of Manotick, Ontario (about 100km north of Ogdensburg, NY, and farther north than Owen Sound and Belleville ;). We back onto a conservation area. So we tend to see a lot of wildlife. However, this is the first time we have seen such a huge butterfly. Wingspan was probably 12-15cm. Took a few snaps, but the butterfly was perched on a grape vine almost 5 metres up.

      The larvae apparently feed on various types of ash trees. That might be bad news for our local ash trees, which are being decimated by the emerald ash borer (beetle). Citrus growers in the US already decry the Giant Swallowtail as a pest. Pity. It is a marvel of nature.

      1. After you identify one, there’s nothing else like it!

        feed on various types of ash trees

        The way I see it, the emerald ash borers won’t leave anything for the butterflies…

      2. We just saw our second one (ever) in Belleville. Beautiful indeed. Clearly these butterflies are working their way northward a bit, perhaps in search of the ash trees. We have few ash trees here, but lots of walnut and maple.

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