Giant Swallowtail eggs??

terrene(5b MA)August 24, 2013

Hi guys, I am so excited, I can't sleep! This afternoon, a friend and her 2 young sons (10 & 11) were visiting, and we went out to the back yard to check out the tomatoes and basil. There was a Giant Swallowtail in the back garden! One of the boys remarked what a big butterfly it was.

From what I understand, Papilio cresphontes is more of a southerly species and historically, sightings in New England are extremely rare. However, I saw one several time in the gardens last year, and there were various sightings across the state throughout 2012.

So this beauty was alternating between nectaring on the tall Zinnias and fluttering about the rue plants. I wasn't sure if she was ovipositing or not? But later after they left, I checked some of the rue and found 4 eggs on one of the plants.

Here she is on the State Fair zinnias -

Here is one of the eggs I found - do you think these are GST eggs? They seem more yellow in color than BST eggs. I grow the rue for the Black Swallowtails, I can hardly believe it would be used by a Giant Swallowtail!

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Rue is in the Rutaceae family, the same as Citrus and Wafer Ash. GSTs will use all three.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 2:51AM
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terrene(5b MA)

Hi Leafhead, yes I know rue is one of the GST host plants. I just meant it is exceedingly rare for them to breed in this state and can't believe it could happen in my garden.

But I wonder if these aren't BST eggs? I was googling and the GST eggs seem like they are a darker yellow or orange color.

Guess I'll find out soon enough when they hatch!

    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 7:39AM
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docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

You hit the jack pot! Congratulations. Having a Giant Swallowtail in my yard is on my bucket list. Of course, I spoke with my twin sister today, and she's had them in her yard every day this year. Now is that fair? She doesn't even know what their host plants are!

I'm visiting her today and we're going to a native plant nursery down the road from her. They are open for retail sale just two weekends per year, and I just happened to check their website last night. Thankfully, yesterday was payday. LOL

Congrats again. Will you bring them in to raise?


    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 7:42AM
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terrene(5b MA)

Hi Martha, does your twin live close by? If she has them they will probably find your garden sometime. I've noticed they love Monarda fistulosa, also Phlox paniculata, Verbena bonariensis, and the female was all over the tall Zinnias for hours yesterday.

I found 4 more eggs this morning and a little 2nd instar Black Swallowtail cat on the rue this morning. What is kind of interesting is that the most of these eggs were laid on the topside of the foliage, not the underside (the one in the picture above being an exception).

I have brought them inside of course! Got 7 BST cats, and now these 8 mystery eggs.

The only thing that could top this, is if a Monarch showed up and leaves me some eggs! I haven't seen any, but my brother-in-law who lives on the other side of town said he saw one in the past couple days near their house.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 9:40AM
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KC Clark - Zone 2012-6a OH

Using your egg picture, I don't think the GST egg fairy visited you. :-( GST eggs are darker and laid on top of the leaves. Looks like a BST egg to me.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 10:27AM
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Tony G(5a)

Hi Terrene, I'm in Minneapolis and have also seen a GST around our rue the past few days.

I found an egg but I think it is a BST egg.

Yesterday, the Rue had just been watered and was looking particularly perky so I don't know what else I can do to persuade her.

The monarchs, on the other hand are being quite generous...Keep us posted on your eggs. I hope you get some giants to overwinter! Tony

    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 11:08AM
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terrene(5b MA)

Bummer KC. That's what I was thinking after googling around last night.

The female GST is out there again this morning, mostly sitting in the sun. Periodically it looks like she is attempts to oviposit on the rue. Is it possible she might be barren, too old, or not have any eggs left? Oh, well, we'll see.

That's cool you're seeing Giant Swallowtails as north as MN Tony!

    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 12:00PM
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docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

Sorry for your disappointment. My sister lives 70 miles away, but I could still get some GST, if she has them. I bought a Hop Tree (Ptelea trifoliata) and I'll plant it after the weather cools. I also bought a Button Bush, a high bush cranberry, and some other nectar lover's perennials. I already have oodles of zinnias, though they are starting to get pretty mildewy, and the darn deer are nibbling my asters, which should be coming into bloom any day. If it's not one thing, it's another.


    Bookmark   August 26, 2013 at 12:26PM
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Tony G(5a)

Terrene, we have actually had GSTs in our garden the past few years. The current female has been in our yard daily...I will keep checking the rue. Going to be 100 degrees in Minny today!

    Bookmark   August 26, 2013 at 12:51PM
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terrene(5b MA)


I am SO excited! Went out this morning to clip some rue for the little BST cats. I have 6 bushy plants, so I perused them to find a nice clipping. Cut off a lower fresh branch. One and only clipping. Lo and Behold! Look who was on the clipping!!! Is this not a Giant Swallowtail caterpillar?

What do I do with this guy? Is it okay in with the BSTs, or should I put it in its own container??

Did I mention that I am SO excited? :)

    Bookmark   September 12, 2013 at 10:13AM
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Good for you:-)
It is indeed a GST cat, and I would put him in his own container, along c any other GSTs you may find:)

    Bookmark   September 12, 2013 at 11:19AM
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How thrilling! Maybe one will turn up on my rue after I plant it next year. You're north of me, so I guess there's hope! That is wonderful news--so lucky you found it. Bet you'll look over every leaf now!

    Bookmark   September 12, 2013 at 1:23PM
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KC Clark - Zone 2012-6a OH

Plant it and they will come, eventually. :)

    Bookmark   September 12, 2013 at 4:09PM
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Congratulations, Terrene! I can imagine how thrilled you are at getting to raise a Giant Swallowtail, and I wouldn't be surprised if you found more out there if you'd look over your rue. They are so neat to raise. I have some here right now and am enjoying raising them and the Black Swallowtails (the PVS have all pupated). I only found one GST on the rue (my daughter actually found it) and mostly all of the others on the gas plants. I found a few on my wafer ash trees and probably would have had more on them if the trees would be bigger, but I just planted them outside last year after starting them from seed the previous year.

I'm so glad that you're getting a chance to raise Giant Swallowtails. Just when you probably thought that you might not ever get them that far north, there they are! :)

I don't know if it would be okay to put the GST in with the Black Swallowtails or not. I usually keep each species with others of its kind just to be on the safe side, and I like to keep similar sizes together. I'm just afraid to put a tiny guy one in with bigger ones. Actually, I think I'd worry about size difference before I'd worry about mixing different species.

I'm guessing that there's a good chance that there are other Giant Swallowtails out on your rue, so then you could put all of the Giants together in their own container. :) Have fun raising the GST!


    Bookmark   September 12, 2013 at 6:16PM
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terrene(5b MA)

Thanks guys!

So earlier I put the cat in with the BSTs - had to go do stuff today and figured it would be okay. Well, when I got back this evening, the cat was missing from the container! I freaked out a little, grabbed the flashlight and started checking the hutch and floor, visions of stepping on or losing the little bugger going through my head. Fortunately I found him/her on the shelf below the container! Phew.

It is now in its own container. Apparently the Giant caterpillars are not like the Black swallowtails which are so easy to raise - you put them somewhere and they stay put!

I looked over the rue a bit more, but haven't found anything more as yet. The rue is so bushy it's not an easy plant to check thoroughly.

Having a Giant swallowtail breed in my garden makes me feel a little better about this butterfly season - it's been a bummer not having any Monarchs.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2013 at 9:41PM
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Tony G(5a)

congratulations Terrene! How exciting to have a northern GST. One of these years I hope we will be so lucky in Minnesota.

Where will you be storing your chrysalis for the winter?


    Bookmark   September 12, 2013 at 11:04PM
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terrene(5b MA)

Hi Tony! Trying not to jump ahead of myself here...but if this cat makes it to a chrysalis, then I probably will over-winter him/her in the same way as the Papilio polyxenes and P. troilus chrysalises that I've successfully over wintered the past couple years. I put them on sticks inside a mesh sleeve and hung the sleeve on the northeast corner of the house about 5 feet up. This way they are outside in a sheltered spot, and it gives them protection from predators, the right temps, airflow, some moisture, etc.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2013 at 3:45AM
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terrene(5b MA)

Well I looked more closely over the rue this morning, and only found 3 Daddy-long-legs, lol. But it is so difficult to check every stalk and leaf on this plant, they are so bushy.

I am happy happy to have even one cat though (hopefully he/she survives). Supposedly there is only one other report of P. cresphontes breeding in this state, way out in western Mass.

Caterwallin, what is this gas plant? What is the botanical name? I have never heard of it.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2013 at 2:07PM
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Terrene, Ha, well, if you'd want to raise Daddy-long-legs, then you might be in business. ;-) Seriously, I thought you'd probably find more GST cats on your rue, but it's like you said, they're bushy and hard to look through all of those leaves. I've given up doing that, especially with the allergy I have to it. My daughter had been looking through it about a week ago and now I have about 15 Black Swallowtail cats that she found. She only found one Giant Swallowtail cat on the rue. I collected 2 from a small wafer ash tree that I have and I think I have 16 that I brought in from the gas plants (3 have pupated).

I know that you're happy if you only raise one GST cat. I know how thrilling it is just to find a new species of caterpillar to raise, especially one that you desire so much and thought that you'd never get in your area. Certainly you really feel blessed, especially since you said there was supposedly only one report of them breeding in MA.

It seems like not many people on here (I wonder if anyone besides me actually) have gas plants for Giant Swallowtails. The name for it is Dictamnus albus, and I think the name Dictamnus fraxinella is interchangeable with it. The plant comes in a few different colors of flowers; mine happens to be 'Rubra'. It's very pretty when it blooms! I've read that the plant gives off a flammable vapor and can be lit with a match, which is how it got its name. I've never tried it though. I've also read that some people can be allergic to the chemicals in the plant. Surprisingly, I've never gotten a rash from any of my 7 plants. Rue, on the other hand, makes me itch like a fiend.

Although I don't have many seeds, I have collected some from the gas plants and will be giving them away along with lots of other kinds of seeds as soon as I get around to collecting them all and preparing them for people. Until they're all ripe and I've gotten them ready to send, I'm sure that will be another couple of months. Watch for my post later on in the year if you're interested in acquiring any. I'll have to say, though, that they're very difficult to start from seed. I tried it once with no luck, but that was before I knew about wintersowing. So maybe they'd do okay with that method. I decided to buy gas plants rather than start them from seed and ordered online from Rose Franklin's Perennials, but she doesn't have them every year. She has various types of host and nectar plants on her website.

Oh, it takes several years for gas plants to bloom.

I'm including a link to the Missouri Botanical Garden's description of the gas plant.


Here is a link that might be useful: Gas Plant/Dictamnus albus

    Bookmark   September 14, 2013 at 4:43PM
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terrene(5b MA)

Hey Caterwallin, I will keep looking on the rue for GST larvae, but I fear that the Daddy-long-legs may have dined on some of the larvae that existed on the rue (be it GST or BST). 8-O In the meantime, I DO feel blessed to have had a visit from an GST ELF, and perhaps this species has decided to make Massachusetts part of their breeding range. If that means we are having milder winters, and longer lep seasons, I am all for it!!

The Dictamnus albus is very pretty! The flowers are beautiful and showy. The rue, not so much, nevertheless it is an attractive plant because of the healthy and lush foliage that stays green well after frost, and the delicate yellow flowers that bloom in Spring.

Clearly I have had great success with the rue seeds you sent me, although I intended to grow it for Papilio polyxenes, never expected the plants to attract P. cresphontes. I am thrilled that they did! It's amazing that a rare species of butterfly can find a few plants in a garden over the course of an entire state. I've started sharing the Rue seeds with others on this forum - pay it forward!

I will keep a look out for your offer of the Gas plant seeds and would be thrilled to get some seeds. Will give it a try using the winter-sowing method, and hope they germinate.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2013 at 9:01PM
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Congrats on your GST!! I have 3 big rue bushes, and had four GSTs last year. They are breathtaking! This year I only had one...but there's still a little time here. (I plucked about 15 BST eggs off of the rue yesterday, so maybe a GST will visit before the cold weather sets in.)

I never had any trouble housing my GSTs with my BSTs. Your guy might have just been an adventurer ;) When I have to overwinter, I put my cage in the garage, which has worked quite well. If you do this, make sure to back your car out right away if you leave it running to warm it up. I don't imagine the exhaust would be good for them...

    Bookmark   September 15, 2013 at 9:28AM
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terrene(5b MA)

Hi guys, well my Giant swallowtail cat appears to be 5th instar now. He is getting pretty big.

I nearly fried the poor cat in the sun today, out on the deck. I had a cover over his container but it had blown sideways. It was not particularly warm today, and the deck doesn't get much sun, but the clear plastic container acts like a little solarium and it got quite warm in there. Caught him in time, he seems okay, thank goodness. Sigh, I hope this guy makes it to eclosure!

Here's a picfrom this afternoon - what do you guys think - is he ready to pupate soon? Do the GSTs purge before they pupate?

    Bookmark   September 24, 2013 at 7:33PM
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WOW!! Been a while since I've seen one of those...
I'd give it another day or two before pupation.
How long has he been in 5th instar?

    Bookmark   September 26, 2013 at 2:23PM
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terrene(5b MA)

Hi Leafhead, your question had me worried yesterday, because it seems he had been in 5th instar for days - he is a pokey caterpillar, nibbling and slowly growing. FINALLY, this morning I found him in the corner of the container, getting into "position" (whatever that is for P. cresphontes but I assume it's similar to P. polyxenes), and it looks like he's going to pupate.

From reading the butterfly websites, there has been mixed results with this species pupating, and over wintering successfully in Massachusetts, while being hand reared. So I decided not to put him in the big aquarium tank with the black swallowtail chrysalises to pupate. I will transfer him after he has pupated.

Besides, it looks like another one of the green Black Swallowtail chrysalises in the tank is darkening, and will eclose in late September! I don't want that to interfere with the Giant cat pupating.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2013 at 11:14AM
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Cool I'm glad he's pupating:)
Smart plan; keep the two separate and keep that Giant cool if you can. The last thing you want is eclosure in the middle of Winter, or worst yet, just before.
As for that BST, hope it has some warm days to fly around in for a few weeks.

    Bookmark   September 27, 2013 at 2:15PM
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terrene(5b MA)

Just an update. I moved the swallowtail chrysalises over to the mesh sleeve today, where they will over winter (on the back side of the house - gets a bit of sun and moisture - worked great the past 2 years).

There are 8 Black swallowtails chrysalises that look good, but the Giant Swallowtail chrysalis was discolored and dried out and apparently has died. Not sure what happened, but it wasn't a strong chrysalis from the start, because it fell from its silk attachments. Well, hope next year is better.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2013 at 5:05PM
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Oh that's sad. I hope next year is better.


    Bookmark   November 4, 2013 at 9:57PM
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Sorry terrene about your giant Swallowtail chrysalis. I was rooting for it. Thanks for the picture of GST butterfly in your garden, it is AMAZING! I've never seen one in my life!! This thread was so interesting, I learned a lot, thanks to all who shared.

terrene, could you possibly put a fine netting over the rue after butterfly visiting time each day, or over some of the rue, to keep out the predatory insects? You may raise the odds of more eggs that way. That reminds me to put the blanket over my outside enclosure, I still have some outdoor Monarch chrysalises. Or grow some rue in a 4 sided netted area, leaving daytime access of the top, then cover it with netting at night?

Next year is a new opportunity to get your GST. I can see why you were so excited! (The caterpillar was also amazing looking).

    Bookmark   November 10, 2013 at 1:21AM
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Tony G(5a)

Hi Terrene....sorry to hear about your GST. That happened with my lone BST last year and it was very disappointing.

Very exciting that you got it up to that point though...perhaps you will have another opportunity next year. Best of luck with you BST's, Tony

    Bookmark   November 10, 2013 at 11:11AM
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kaboehm (zone 9a, TX USA)

How long does a GST take to hatch? I had one cat devouring my orange tree. He pupated 12 days ago. He's in the house where it's a constant 79 degrees. I brought him inside about a week before he pupated.

Very well camouflaged!

    Bookmark   July 13, 2014 at 4:42PM
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kaboehm (zone 9a, TX USA)

Here's a pic of the eater!!

    Bookmark   July 13, 2014 at 5:08PM
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kaboehm (zone 9a, TX USA)

All sources I read say that the chrysalis darkens about 24 hours prior to the butterfly emerging. Here's the chrysalis this morning!

Can someone confirm that this is getting close....?

This post was edited by kaboehm on Wed, Jul 16, 14 at 14:55

    Bookmark   July 16, 2014 at 2:33PM
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msmorningsong(SW FL 10A)

Kabo, did the Swallowtail emerge yet? It does look like it's getting ready. I have them yearly all over my white sapote trees, and they do darken before hatching.

    Bookmark   July 20, 2014 at 9:07AM
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kaboehm (zone 9a, TX USA)

When I got home on July 16, I had a lovely GST wanting out of the plastic critter container. I took it to the backyard, took the lid off and he flew up and away...healthy and strong!

    Bookmark   August 10, 2014 at 8:49AM
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