Alabama Butterfly Atlas

Butterfly: Wingspan: 4 to 6 1/4 inches (8.6-14 cm).  The forewing has a diagonal band of yellow spots. Tails are edged with black and filled with yellow. Giant Swallowtails are generally the largest butterflies in Alabama. The sexes are similar, but females may be lighter in color.

ID Tip: Giant Swallowtails are predominately brown on top and creamy yellow beneath. Their flapping wings create a strobe effect.

Egg: Round,dusky orange eggs are deposited singly on host plants.

Caterpillar: Larvae strongly resemble bird droppings. Exact patterns change as caterpillars molt and grow, but they retain the basic brown with cream-and-white patches coloration. Older larvae often rest on twigs; young caterpillars lay on top of leaves--exactly where bird droppings occur  Fully grown caterpillars look like small brown snakes when viewed head-on. If frightened, caterpillars heighten the startle effect by rearing back and assuming an angry snake's posture.  Bright red osmeteria are extruded, which resemble a viper's tongue. These organs also emit a foul odor.

Chrysalis: Crusty brown.  Resembles a broken twig. The chrysalis is the overwintering stage.

Giant Swallowtails are impressive: except for the occassional female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, they are Alabama's largest butterflies.  Their flight is strong and graceful, and they often glide significant distances between wingbeats.  Look for these butterflies in natural areas that support Prickly Ashes (Zanthoxylum spp.) or Wafer Ash (Ptelea trifoliata). They may also be found  in cultivated landscapes that include Rue (Ruta graveolens) and/or citrus trees.



Distribution and Abundance

A dot on the county map indicates that there is at least one documented record of the species within that county. In some cases, a species may be common throughout the county, in others it may be found in only a specific habitat. The High Count information shows the highest numbers recorded for this species as well as when and where they occurred.

The sightings bar graphs depict the timing of flight(s) within each of three geographic regions. Place your cursor on a bar within the graph to see the number of individuals recorded during that period.

The abundance calendar displays the total number of individuals recorded within each week of the month. Both the graphs and the calendar are on based data collection that began in 2000.

The records analyzed here are only a beginning. As more data is collected, these maps and graphs will paint a more accurate picture of distribution and abundance in Alabama. Submit your sightings to

Sightings in the following counties: Autauga, Baldwin, Bibb, Blount, Bullock, Calhoun, Choctaw, Cleburne, Colbert, Cullman, Dallas, Elmore, Escambia, Greene, Hale, Houston, Jackson, Jefferson, Lawrence, Lee, Limestone, Lowndes, Madison, Marengo, Marshall, Mobile, Monroe, Montgomery, Perry, Pickens, Pike, Shelby, sumter, Sumter, Talladega, Tuscaloosa, Wilcox

  • Map Symbol for Recent Sightings Sightings in the past 5 years
  • Map Symbol for Semi-Recent Sightings Sightings in the past 5 - 10 years
  • Map Symbol for Old Sightings Sightings more than 10 years ago

High count(s):

  • 10 - Bibb - 9/2/2017
  • 5 - Mobile - 5/31/2010
  • 5 - Mobile - 6/1/2010
County Distribution Map

View county names by moving the mouse over a county or view a map with county names

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
1 2 2 8 12 3 2 6 4 13 2 7 13 3 5 8 3 5 5 5 4 8 10 16 16 8 8 5 2 6 1


Ranges widely across open areas including herb gardens and citrus groves.

Host and Nectar Plants

Throughout their range, Giant Swallowtails eat a wide variety of plants that belong to the Citrus family (Rutaceae).

In addition to the plants highlighted in blue below, Giant Swallowtails also use these plants as hosts:

  • Rue (Ruta graveolens)
  • Sweet Kumquat (Fortunella crassifolia)
  • Tangelo (Citrus x tangelo)
  • Giant Key Lime (Citrus aurantifolia)
  • Satsuma Mandarin (Citrus unshiu)
  • Grapefruit (Citrus x paradisi)
  • Meyer Lemon (Citrus x meyeri)


For more information about the documented host plants and/or nectar plants, please visit the Alabama Plant Atlas using the following links:

Landscaping Ideas

Giant Swallowtails may be attracted to herb gardens that include Rue (which they may share with Black Swallowtail caterpillars). They may also be attracted to various citrus plants, either potted or in the ground. 

Swallowtails are avid nectarers and are especially attracted to native wildflowers such as bee balms (Monarda spp.) milkweeds (Asclepias spp.), Joe Pye Weeds (Eutrochium spp.), Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), blazing stars (Liatris spp.), and phloxes (Phlox spp.).