Giant Swallowtail

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.

Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) on Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) on Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

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.

That's quite the proboscis!

That’s quite the proboscis!

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.


About Eliza Waters

Gardener, writer, photographer, naturalist
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19 Responses to Giant Swallowtail

  1. Sharon K. says:

    A beautiful Black Swallowtail! They float and flutter along, don’t they? These are great shots Eliza. We get these and tiger and zebras, and oftentimes their wings are nipped away, I assume from birds, or just wear and tear. Some are so large they look like slow-motion birds fluttering around the cleome or zinnias.

  2. Such magnificent photos…I returned again tonight to look at it! Beautiful!

  3. Wow how exciting! Great photo.

  4. Impressive! Beautiful photos. 🙂

  5. Treah says:

    Wow…..I JUST saw one of these in a friend’s garden in Vermont yesterday. I noted it because it was so different. Perhaps these will fill in some of the gap left by the monarchs? Thanks for ID-ing it!

  6. dorannrule says:

    What an outstanding beauty! And how fortunate you were to be on hand for the visit. Great photos!

  7. What a lovely creature. I haven’t seen that swallowtail in our garden, but will watch for it. I’m glad it was well fed in yours 😉

  8. Maria F. says:

    That last image is so nice!

  9. Robbie says:

    Beautiful!!!! I had one just like that flying in the garden a few days ago, but it’s wing was not broken. In the past I have had broken wings + they are so precious in my eyes. They work so hard in their travels…lovely post + I have been outside picking buckets of raspberries this past week with company here , so not on my blog too much…I missed your lovely pictures of your broken winged butterfly..:-) I love when they “grace” my yard, too:-)

    • Eliza Waters says:

      They are special visitors.
      Do you freeze your berries, make jam or – my favorite – pie?

      • Robbie says:

        well, to be honest this is the first year I have has a surplus! I am planning on freezing some and making jam soon. I am sharing a lot of them fresh with people. I have a post on them this week..still workin on it..they are so good!!! Pie would be good , too. I am just so excited my plants did so well + enjoying them every day!

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