Raising Giant Swallowtail Butterflies

After finding some black swallowtail caterpillars in our garden earlier this summer, we were very surprised to find giant swallowtail caterpillars too. We were even more surprised because these caterpillars looked like bird poop!

That is how my son identified them. He typed “caterpillars that look like bird poop” into a Google search engine, and giant swallowtails were the first result!

We were thrilled to find them because we don’t see giant swallowtails very often. We have seen them in our yard, but I can count on one hand the times I’ve spotted one. They are the largest butterfly in the U.S. and Canada, and they can have a wingspan of six inches. Ours weren’t quite that big, but they were almost five inches.

It turns out that one of the host plants for giant swallowtails is citrus, and if you remember, my son had planted a lemon seed a few years ago, and it grew into a small tree. We don’t live in the right climate for citrus, however, so it died during the winter. I cut off all the limbs, and I was going to throw it out, but in the spring, I started to see little green shoots come up again. So I left it. By the time the giant swallowtail came to lay her eggs, it was the size of a small bush. Since it’s unlikely we’ll ever have lemons, we don’t mind sharing our tree with caterpillars.

Eventually, we put some of the caterpillars into our butterfly cage, and we had the pleasure of observing these incredibly beautiful and well-camouflaged chrysalises.

They stayed in their chrysalis form for a good 15 days — that’s the longest we’ve ever observed a butterfly in a chrysalis. When they eclosed, they revealed their gorgeous adult attire, which was a far cry from the caterpillar-poop attire. 😉

We’re looking forward to other wonders we may find in our yard!

3 thoughts on “Raising Giant Swallowtail Butterflies

  1. I’m rearing my first batch of giants. Started with 18 eggs and I have 2 chrysalis and 2 cats left. The rest have not survived. 1 of the cats is gigantic. She keeps growing and growing. 1 of my chrysalis looks really good and the other is turning black and seems to be getting smaller in size. I’m afraid it’s dying or dead. I would love to know more about why some turn at a smaller size than others. Like I said, 1 is huge compared to the others that turned to chrysalis already.

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    1. Hi Carrie…Thanks for your comment! The chrysalis will turn black right before they emerge or eclose. The chrysalis is actually clear, so what you are seeing is the color of the wings. If they are dead, they may dry and shrivel up a little, but turning black is okay. I don’t know why one turned at a smaller size, but it might be fine. I would just wait and see. If you still have a chrysalis long after the others eclosed and flew away, then something is probably wrong with it. I had a lot of questions the first time too, but each time I’ve helped the butterflies, I’ve learned something new just by watching and waiting. Good luck!

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