I had an unusual visitor to my garden the other day. While having lunch on our deck, I noticed a rather large butterfly flitting among the Coneflowers. I grabbed my camera and went down to get a closer look. I had never seen one like this: 5-6″ wide, a large, creamy-yellow abdomen with a black band running along the top and the signature ‘tails’ at end of the lower wings, cluing me in that this might be a type of Swallowtail.
When I looked it up, I found we are at the northern end of the rather tropical-looking Giant Swallowtail’s range with rare specimens turning up as far north as Quebec and Nova Scotia. One of the two largest butterflies in North America, this one looked the worse for wear with portions of its bottom and top right wing missing. It still managed to fly well. The bee in the top photo actually tried unsuccessfully to chase it off!
Apparently fond of citrus trees as host plants, the larvae are voracious pests in Florida, where they fly the year around and produce up to four broods a year. The only other host plants that grow around here, also in the Rutaceae family, are the herb Rue (Ruta graveolens) and Gas Plant (Dictamnus albus). I wondered how far this one travelled to get to my garden in Massachusetts?
It had a long proboscis that it used like a giant straw to suck nectar and seemed to favor the coneflower, although it briefly paused on the phlox and white allium.
It didn’t hang around long and I’ve not seen it since, so I guess it had other gardens to visit. It was fun to have such a delicate and beautiful visitor grace my garden, even if only for a short while.