Have you ever noticed that most butterflies have different patterns on the tops and undersides of their wings? The topsides are thought to be colored to attract mates and, in some cases, to warn predators. Since butterflies rest with their wings folded, the undersides often display a camouflage pattern to make them less visible.
Sometimes we see two butterflies gracefully ‘dancing’ in the air. What we are actually observing at is a butterfly fight. They are territorial and will try to chase each other away from nectar and host plants of their liking. But, since they lack any weapons, other than some minor wing damage due to collisions, they cannot harm their opponents.
The Giant Swallowtail
Swallowtails get their name from the two extensions at the back of their wings resembling a swallow’s tail. There are more than 500 species worldwide, ten of which call Florida home. For a butterfly, Giant Swallowtails have a truly impressive wingspan of up to 5.5”. The wings are dark brown with yellow spots that form bands across the topsides of the wings. When resting with folded wings, we see the light yellow with blue and red dots
on the undersides.
Giant swallowtail butterflies lay their eggs on wild lime, citrus and torchwood and aretherefore often seen around orange groves and your backyard citrus trees. Their larvae are brown and white in color and resemble bird droppings. They can also emit a strong odor which makes them even less attractive to predators.
They will cause some temporary damage to your trees by eating the new leaves, but you may consider that well worth the cost to be hosting the next generation of these beautiful pollinators.
Thanks for visiting our blog, spread the word, and come back next month for some more interesting facts on butterflies in general and on Cloudless Sulphurs in particular.
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Written by Carin Ashman, UF/IFAS Extension Clay County Master Gardener Volunteer