The swallowtail butterfly: the largest and most exotic

The giant swallow-tailed butterfly or Papilio cresphontes is an amazing butterfly, exotic in appearance and very abundant on the American continent . The adult butterfly is a welcome visitor in gardens, plantations and landscapes in general.

The caterpillar or larval stage can be considered a pest due to its habit of feeding on the foliage of the most species Citrus . Some larvae can quickly defoliate small or young plants. However, larvae can be tolerated on large citrus trees.

Geographic distribution of the swallowtail butterfly

This example of nature is widely distributed throughout the American continent . Its range extends from southern New England through the northern states of the Great Lakes to Ontario, through the southern parts of the Central Plains to the Rocky Mountains.

The species it extends south to the Caribbean, to the southwestern United States, and, through Mexico, to Central and South America. The swallowtail butterfly is very common throughout the state of Florida .

Morphological characteristics

The male adult swallowtail butterfly can get to measure on average about 14 centimeters in length and the female about 14.7 centimeters . The dorsal wing surfaces of this butterfly are black with a striking diagonal yellow bar across the anterior wings.

The surfaces of the ventral wing are mainly yellow. Swallowtail tail it may vary in color depending on the geographical location . Some tails are filled with yellow, others are all black and some more bright red just inside the blue band on the rear ventral spoiler.

The five larval stages differ in appearance, but they all share a similarity with the excreta of the birds . Younger stadiums are more realistic feather imitators of birds due to their smaller size.

Mature larvae generally rest on stems or petioles of leaves , but larvae more Young people often rest with the naked eye on the upper surfaces of the leaves. The latter are predominantly black or brown with a white band, and have prominent 'hairs'.

Life cycle

The adult swallowtail butterfly drinks nectar from many flowers and it is common to visit spectacular gardens where abundant azalea, bougainvillea, Japanese honeysuckle, goldenrod and marsh crocodile. You can also drink liquid from manure.

Adult males patrol migratory routes through pine forests or citrus orchards looking for females . The flight is very strong and slow, and butterflies can travel long distances. Courtship and copulation occur in the afternoon.

Paired females generally lay their eggs individually on the upper surface of the leaves of host plants . The eggs are spherical, measure from 1 to 1.5 mm and are cream to brown. Typically they have an irregular coating of an orange secretion that recalls the appearance of orange peel skin.

Larvae can metamorphose into small twigs of the host plant or can travel a short distance to a vertically oriented structure, such as a near or another plant. The brownish chrysalis is usually oriented at 45º with respect to the substrate of the pupa.Larvae host plants include members of the citrus family, white sapote and other exotic plants.

Pupae are immobile and defenseless against parasitic insects . The larval stages seem to be more protected against enemies than the pupal stage. The larvae defend themselves against predators, both insects and invertebrates, and against parasitic insects because they are less visible through coloration and the cryptic pattern. That is, to look like the droppings of birds.

In addition, larvae have a gland in the middle part behind the head that uses when attacked by small predators . This gland emits a secretion of very noxious and pungent chemicals that smells like rancid butter. This secretion is repellent and toxic to predators such as ants and spiders.