Gliding Giants


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This is one of those images that doesn’t present itself to you very much.

I captured these two Giant Swallowtails at Splinter Ridge Fish & Wildlife Area earlier this summer as they were gliding thru an open meadow in some type of courtship ritual.

I was lucky enough to be following them when they made a sudden loop and sailed right over me and my camera for a once in a lifetime shot. I fired off about 30 shots and I came up with this one image that I believe best represents this wonderful experience.

The cool thing is that these were the first Giant Swallowtails that I have ever observed or let alone photographed making it an amazing experience.

I hope you enjoy the image and I will share some info about this butterfly that I pulled from Wikipedia….

Papilio cresphontes, the giant swallowtail or in its larval phase the orange dog or orange puppy, is a swallowtail butterfly common in parts of North America and marginally into South America. In the United States and Canada it is mainly found in the south and east. With a wingspan of about 10–16 cm (3.9–6.3 in) it is the largest butterfly in Canada and the United States.

An adult’s wingspan is about 100–160 mm (3.9–6.3 in) The body and wings are dark brown to black with yellow bands. There is a yellow eyespot in each wing’s tail. The abdomen has bands of yellow along with the previously mentioned brown. Adults are quite similar to the adults of another Papilio species, P. thoas.

The mature caterpillar resembles bird droppings to deter predators, and if that doesn’t work they use their orange osmeteria. These are “horns” which they can display and then retract. The coloration is dingy brown and or olive with white patches and small patches of purple. Citrus fruit farmers often call the caterpillars orange dogs or orange puppies because of the devastation they can cause to their crops.

In the United States, P. cresphontes is mostly seen in deciduous forest and citrus orchards where they are considered a major pest. They fly between May and August where there are two broods in the north and three in the south. They can range from southern California (where they have been seen from March to December, reaching peak abundance in late summer/early fall), Arizona as deep south as Mexico north into southeastern Canada. Outside the United States and Canada they are found in Mexico, Central America, Colombia, Jamaica and Cuba.

Giant swallowtails fly from Late May–August, but in some areas of the southern United States such as Texas and Louisiana, they may be seen as late as October. All giant swallowtails have a distinctive flight pattern which generally looks as if they are “hopping” through the air. Females tend to beat their wings slowly but move quickly. Because females have such large wings, each wing beat will carry it a long way. Males however, tend to have more of a darty flight. Males beat their wings rapidly, but they move slower than females because their wings are smaller and each beat carries them less far. Giant swallowtails in general fly fast and high and can be difficult to capture.

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