Saturday, August 26, 2006

Giant Swallowtail caterpillar (Papilio cresphontes Cramer) also known as the Orange dog

Giant Swallowtail. Photo by Bruce Spencer I shot photos of this caterpillar on Saturday morning and then spent about 20 minutes online identifying it.

Giant Swallowtail caterpillars are generally brown and white (about two and a half inches long) and resemble a bird dropping, although this one reminded me of a snake. The swollen head and two large eye spots give the appearance of ferocious quarry to scare away predators. When disturbed, these catepillars project a pair of horn-like, orange-red glands called osmeteria – looking very much like a forked tongue - which are suppose to give off a foul odor that acts as a strong deterrent to birds (I didn’t smell anything – I was too shocked). The adult butterfly is one of the largest swallowtail species, with a wingspan of up to six inches. Wings are black with yellow markings near wing margins and spots forming a diagonal band across the fore wings.

Giant Swallowtail displaying osmeteria. Photo by Bruce SpencerLife Cycle: Adult females lay yellow-green eggs singly on host plants. Caterpillars hatch and develop through several stages before forming a chrysalis or pupa, which is attached to the host plant by the back end and held in an upright position by a silk thread around the middle.

Giant Swallowtail. Photo by Bruce SpencerHabitat and Food Sources: Feeds on leaves of host plants including citrus; gas plant, Dictamnus; prickly ash, Xanthoxylum sp.; and rue, Ruta graveolens.


Anonymous Tiffany said...

Oh. My. GOSH. That is the scariest looking caterpillar I've ever seen. I'm not quite sure how something that looks like a cast member from a horror film can turn into such a beautiful butterfly...

1:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that I thought it looked like a snake. My daughter claimed she was bitten by a snake with a red tongue. It stung her. When I went to see what she found, my first thought was that it was a snake. Upon further inspection, I realized it was a caterpillar. It was demolishing my lemon tree leaves. I took it off the tree using 2 cups and it stuck out its red tongue and emitted a horrible odor. One of the worst things I have ever smelled. I had 3 of these on one small lemon tree. I didn't let them live long enough to become the butterfly that I would have enjoyed!

8:36 PM  
Anonymous Michelle said...

OMG! We just found 2 of these on our orange tree. At first we thought is was bird poop until we went to touch it with a stick and the red horns came out. We are glad we found this site now we know what it is, thank you.

9:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Bruce,

My name is Zoe and I live in Southern California. I have a small lemon tree which I have enjoyed watching grow and it now has six lemons on it. While I was watering it yesterday I noticed what looked like a stick on one of the leaves and I tried to remove it when to my surprise it was alive. When those bright orange tongue-like antennae came out I was shocked and immediately went to grab my camera. Unfortunately I'm having difficulty uploading them, but it certainly looked like the pic you took. My sons and I spent time on the internet trying to figure out what type of a worm it was. Placed the leaf in a jar when I immediately got a whiff of that strong odor. I investigated the lemon tree and found his brother who I also placed in the jar. For hours we too didn't know what this unusual and quite ugly worm was. Until, I remembered taking a photograph of a beautiful Giant Swallowtail butterfly around two weeks ago, which kept flying or gliding around the lemon tree. We checked out Giant Swallowtails and there it was. By the time we found this out it was around 10pm and I immediately, went outside with a flashlight and placed each one on a leaf as I can't wait to watch these unattractive creatures turn into that beautiful and carefree butterfly. I see it was some time ago when you had posted this blog but since yours was the only one I could find I wanted to write and get some input from you as to maybe how long it takes for them to go from this stage to become a chrysalis. Anyway, I'm quite excited as with all the economic crisis that's going on, this has given me some personal hope that when things are this ugly they can soon become beautiful. Looking forward to hearing from you.

7:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We live in Phoenix AZ & found one on our Orange tree. It really looked like a small diamondhead snake, but we knew it was a catepillar. My son freaked out when he saw what he thought was a forked tongue. Thanks for helping with our mystery!!
Gillilands in AZ

9:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OMG I have one of those one my orange plants!!! It is defiantly cool!! And they do have these beady little eyes that sorta creep me out alot. The tongue was a big shocker though!! I used to have two, but know i have only 1 and dont know if the other ate it or a bird got it. Plus what happens if it doesn't get enough food, cause it has strippped my orange plant's leaves!!! Thanks for at least telling me what it is though.

8:09 PM  
Blogger maggie said...

I'm so thankful to find this information. I've just found these horrible little dragons all over my little lemon tree. So glad to now what they are, but the questions remains, how do I get rid of them? Will they kill my tree? I tried spraying them with a concoction, but they stuck out those red fangs and scared me to death. Can someone tell me how to rid my tree of them? I don't want to touch them, YUK!

3:44 PM  
Blogger Ryan Danger Sims said...

Thanks for the info!

8:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wish I had known about this before I found one of these in my yard. I removed it from my dwarf lemon tree and, after checking it out in amazement, I moved it to the top of the backyard fence to keep it out of reach of my cats. Later I noticed a robin carrying the poor guy off. Unfortunately, we will have one less swallowtail this season -- but the robin and her babies have a full tummy tonight.

10:17 PM  
Blogger maggie said...

I know you feel badly about that, but Nature is cruel. I finally gave up and cut my whole lemon tree down. Haha, I guess that could be deemed cruel, too.

10:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My grandkids found 4 of these little monsters on our lemon tree. We took them off and put them in a large jar with some branches with leaves for them to eat. We wanted to see what they will become and glad to know they will afterall be beautiful.. We live in Austin, TX

9:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm in Austin TX as well- found about 6 or 7 on my citrus tree. Unfortunately they are going to be picked off and tossed into the woods to fend for themselves, my citrus tree is still too young to support an entire family of these things.

5:38 PM  
Blogger maggie said...

Last year they almost totally ate my lemon tree. I pulled a few off and squashed them, then put the recommended powder on my tree. That did the trick. I never saw any more of them. Unfortunately, I finally got tired of the tree with those long thorns and cut it down. I don't miss the tree or those nasty little dragons.

7:26 PM  
Blogger Celestial Elf said...

Great Post :D
thought you might like my machinima film the butterfly's tale~
Bright Blessings
elf ~

4:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just found 2 of these on my red grapefruit tree, June 29, 2012, 4 days after heavy rains. Long red tongue (split) reached all the way to its tail to deter me. PB, Lakeland FL.

1:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They are in Houston too.I also thought it was bird poo, so I left it alone. I have a lemon, orange and grapefruit tree. They all had these nasty little caterpillars. It took me a good while to realize what they were. I decided to look up how to get red of them. That is how I ended up here. This all is extremely helpful to me. The biggest thing I learned, is that I probably won't lose my trees. When will this stop? The other thing I noticed is like pecking on the fruit itself. I don't think the caterpillars are responsible for that part. Can any one help with that? This will be my first fruit...and I would love to be able to enjoy eating it.

12:47 AM  
Anonymous Brenda said...

I ended up just plucking them off and killing them. I hated to do that, but nothing else worked. After I killed about 10, I never saw any more. I eventually ended up just cutting that tree down though because it had long needle like stickers on it which poked me every time I mowed past it.

8:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just found one.. It is so ugly.. Do you know if they are poisonous?

2:37 PM  
Anonymous joey said...

Joey from moundville alabama, found 5 on my orange tree today, did not know what they were, found this on internet now I know. They do put off a terrible smell, and they will eat off all the leaves.

9:11 PM  
Blogger tini said...

Found about 4 of them on my tiny potted lemon tree in Houston. Thought it was bird poop until I tried to flick it off with a stick...Freaked out when it stuck out a forked tounge and omitted a horrible odor...Unfortunately that triggered the full commando mode within, and I sprayed them with white vinegar until they dropped! Had 12 tomato plants and 6 cucumber plants completely stripped this summer...Never found the culprit! Might have slightly over reacted...Now that I know what they could have been :(

7:55 PM  
Anonymous Tracey said...

OMG, this is the creepiest thing I have ever seen on a lemon tree and the tongue thing freaked me out. I have lived in Northern Florida for years and have always had at least one citrus tree and this is the first time I have seen one of these nasty things.

7:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't understand how you all "killed" those catapillers!! So, they ate the leaves on your trees....the leaves grow back PEOPLE!! It's a SIN, killing a creature that through a miracle will turn into one of the most beautiful butterflies you will ever see!!! Next time you find one of "horribly frightening" 1-4 inch creatures call your local botanical society, many times they will be to put you in contact with someone that will come & remove & relocate them so they will survive !! Along with the " precious" leaves on your citrus! Plant two trees SHARE THE PLANT! Remember, They were HERE LONG BEFORE US! Educate,enjoy,embrace!

10:52 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'm sorry, All Knowing One, but the uneducated of the masses, all we see is a dinosaur looking creature shooting red fangs out at us as we are trying yo protect thr life of a tree. Red sharp fangs usually indicate danger to me. Maybe you should go on the warpath to educate all of us about these creatures before they appear.

12:53 AM  
Blogger Paul S said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:30 PM  
Blogger Paul S said...

Why, are you eating them?

10:32 PM  
Anonymous Nedra Sanders said...

I found one on a citrus plant today, I had never seen anything like it...but everything you said is true...and it has a picture of a brown spider on it's back...the red horns came out and the horrible smell, and it reminded me of a rattlesnake in color and pattern and that 'head' that looks like a snake mouth...I pulled the leaf off that he was on and threw it into the I hope it finds another plant that it can attach to, who would have thought that such a horrible looking thing could become so beautiful?!!!!

10:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I called the local nursury and they recommended relocating them to a milkweed plant if you don't want to kill them and are worried about your tree's leaves. Swallowtails are beautiful but I guess too many of the buggers could strip the leaves of a small tree. The leaves do grow back though. ~ Upland, CA 8/22/14

10:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found 6 or 7 of them on my tiny lemon tree and sprayed them for fear they will come back. I DID know what they were but couldn't bring myself to touch them to remove them.
Love the idea of moving them to milkweed, I'll do that next time, with a stick!

3:43 PM  
Blogger Betty Saenz said...

My son found one on our Meyers lemon tree leaf. Very interesting. Looks like a large bird dropping!

11:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info, my lime tree has leaves to spare for these swallowtail treasures :))

12:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just found one on my baby lemon tree! So crazy looking and it smelled rotten! It did a lot of damage but we see those butterflies all the time. Thanks for the info!

6:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found several of these on my lime tree several months ago, removed them and threw the, away, until I looked them up and found out they were butterflies. I got them out of the trash and make a butterfly box. Well yesterday afternoon I looked in the box and one has became a beautiful black and yellow butterfly, I see a few others that are coming out also. What an experience.

8:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In case anyone is still reading this, do not relocate this caterpillar to milkweed. They have very specific host plants. They will not eat milkweed, which is the host plant for Monarchs.

10:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info! Certainly will sacrifice the leaves on my lemon tree for these beautiful butterflies!

10:03 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Helo my name is Edward I just encountered one of the same caterpillars that you posted with my little brother and dad . After my dad touched the caterpillar it lets out a orange corned tongue and it lets out a awful odor. Who founded on our tangerine tree.

8:03 PM  
Blogger MikeT said...

Thanks, Bruce! Found a pair of these on a small lemon and your great photos in Google Images helped me to understand them.

10:33 AM  
Blogger Holly Carboni said...

I've had a small tangelo tree for four years now and it hasn't grown a bit because it loses all of its leaves every year to these caterpillars. I'm honestly surprised they haven't killed it yet. Sorry to anyone who loves the butterflies, but I care more about my tree. I got ducklings a couple of weeks ago. Maybe they'll eat them.

6:23 PM  
Blogger James Brown said...

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7:20 PM  

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