How to Get Rid of Giant Swallowtail Caterpillars: Quick and Effective Solutions

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Giant swallowtail caterpillars are known for their voracious appetite and can cause significant damage to plants and trees. While these caterpillars eventually transform into beautiful, beneficial pollinators, it’s important to manage their populations when they pose a threat to your garden or landscape.

There are several effective methods to control giant swallowtail caterpillars, including natural predators, manual removal, and selective use of insecticides. In this article, we’ll explore these techniques and provide helpful tips for keeping your plants safe and healthy. Remember, it’s crucial to strike a balance between protecting your plants and supporting the natural ecosystem.

Understanding Giant Swallowtail Caterpillars

Life Cycle of the Giant Swallowtail Butterfly

  • Eggs: The female butterfly lays yellow eggs on the host plants.
  • Larvae: The caterpillars hatch and go through several instar stages.
  • Pupae: Caterpillars form a chrysalis as they prepare to become butterflies.
  • Adults: Adult giant swallowtails emerge from the chrysalis and start the cycle again.

These caterpillars are the larval stage of the giant swallowtail butterfly (Papilio cresphontes). They have a unique defensive organ called the osmeterium. It releases a foul smell to ward off predators.

Key Features and Characteristics

  • Coloration: Blotchy brown-and-white pattern
  • Size: 1.5-2 inches when mature
  • Resemblance: Looks like a bird dropping
  • Defense: Osmeterium

These caterpillars can be identified by their blotchy brown-and-white pattern, which helps them blend in and avoid predators. They can grow up to 1.5-2 inches when mature.

Habitats and Host Plants


  • United States, mainly Florida
  • North America

Host Plants

  • Citrus trees
  • Other plants in the Rutaceae family

Giant swallowtail caterpillars are native to the United States and feed primarily on citrus trees, earning them the nickname “orange dogs.” They are especially common in Florida and other areas of North America where citrus trees are abundant. Host plants are crucial for their survival as they lay their eggs and develop into adult butterflies.

Identifying Damage Caused by Giant Swallowtail Caterpillars

Recognizing Injury to Garden and Citrus Plants

Giant swallowtail caterpillars, also known as Papilio cresphontes Cramer, primarily target citrus plants, causing visible damage. Here are a few symptoms of their presence:

  • Leaves: Skeletonized, partially eaten, or curled leaves.
  • Fruit: Fruit may drop prematurely or have visible chew marks.

For example, you might see the edges of a lemon tree’s leaves eaten away or chewed holes in orange leaves.

Signs of an Infestation

Usually, it’s easy to spot a giant swallowtail caterpillar infestation:

  • Caterpillars: They are brown or green, and resemble bird droppings, making them difficult to spot on the plant itself.
  • Eggs: Tiny, orange-yellow orbs found on the undersides of leaves.

Comparison of damage caused by different pests:

Pest Garden Plants Citrus Plants
Giant Swallowtail Skeletonized leaves Skeletonized leaves, damaged fruits
Large milkweed bug Deformed, yellowed leaves
Fall armyworm Defoliation, chewed leaf edges Defoliation, chewed leaf edges

Pros and Cons of Giant Swallowtail Caterpillars

It’s essential to understand the positive and negative aspects of giant swallowtail caterpillars before trying to eradicate them:


  • Beautiful adult butterflies
  • Natural predator control


  • Damage to citrus plants and gardens
  • Potential loss of fruit production

Natural Methods to Control Swallowtail Caterpillars

Using Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt)

Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) is a naturally occurring bacteria that’s effective against caterpillars, including giant swallowtails. Apply Bt to affected plants using a spray bottle. Caterpillars ingest Bt when feeding on leaves, causing them to stop eating and eventually die.


  • Natural and safe for the environment
  • Doesn’t harm beneficial insects


  • Must be reapplied after rain or watering
  • Can affect non-target caterpillars

Introducing Beneficial Predators

Invite beneficial predators like birds, ladybugs, and parasitic wasps to your garden:

  • Install birdhouses and bird baths
  • Add plants that attract beneficial insects

These predators help control giant swallowtails and other pests.

Hand-Picking and Home Remedies

Hand-picking caterpillars can be an effective way to control them. Do this daily for the best results. Dispose of the removed caterpillars properly.

There are also home remedies to help control giant swallowtails:

  • Neem oil: Mix with water and spray on plants
  • Pepper and garlic mixture: Crush garlic and pepper, add to water, and spray on plants
  • Soap and water solution: Mix a few drops of liquid dish soap with water and spray on plants

Use these remedies sparingly to avoid harming your plants.

Method Pros Cons
Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) Natural, safe for the environment, targets caterpillars Must be reapplied, can affect non-target caterpillars
Beneficial predators Controls various pests, adds biodiversity to the garden Takes time to establish predator populations
Hand-Picking Immediate results, no chemicals Time-consuming, daily monitoring needed
Home remedies Inexpensive, uses common household items Can harm plants if overused

Chemical Control Techniques for Caterpillar Management

Commercial Sprays and Pesticides

One effective way to manage giant swallowtail caterpillars is by using a chemical control agent like Sevin. Sevin is a widely-used pesticide that can help control caterpillar populations on your plants.

  • Pros: Fast-acting, effective against various pests
  • Cons: May harm beneficial insects, multiple applications may be needed
Chemical Control Agent Caterpillar Effectiveness Impact on Beneficial Insects
Sevin High Negative

Precautions and Safe Usage

When using chemical control methods, it is crucial to adhere to safe usage practices.

  • Read and follow the product label’s instructions
  • Wear protective clothing, including gloves and eye-wear
  • Avoid spraying during windy conditions or when bees are active
  • Properly dispose of any leftover chemicals and containers

By following these guidelines, you can safely and effectively manage giant swallowtail caterpillars while minimizing negative impacts on the environment and beneficial insects.

Nurturing and Supporting Swallowtail Butterflies

Creating a Butterfly-friendly Garden

To support swallowtail butterflies, you can create a garden with plants suitable for both caterpillars and adult butterflies. Some popular host plants for the caterpillars include:

  • Carrots
  • Parsley
  • Dill

For the giant swallowtail caterpillars, you can plant:

  • Prickly ash (Zanthoxylum americanum)
  • Hercules club (Ptelea trifoliata)
  • Wild lime
  • Common rue

Adult butterflies need nectar-producing plants to feed on. You can use floral tubes to provide them with an adequate food source.

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Caring for Swallowtail Caterpillars and Butterflies

When caring for swallowtail caterpillars, keep them in a caterpillar cage to protect them from predators like birds. Watch for giant swallowtail eggs and make sure the cage is spacious enough for the growing caterpillars.

Monitor the chrysalis formation stage and maintain a clean environment. Keep plants healthy by removing dead leaves and disposing of them properly.

To prevent diseases, you can pour boiling water over affected plants to kill bacteria and other pathogens. Check on your caterpillars regularly and ensure their habitat is safe and suitable for growth.

Remember that providing proper care for both caterpillars and butterflies contributes to a thriving butterfly garden.

Dealing with Other Garden Pests

Controlling Snails and Slugs

One efficient method to reduce the number of garden pests is to hand-pick them during a walk in your garden. For instance, deposit snails and slugs in a bottle of water and empty it when necessary.

Burlap sacks can also be placed around the garden, providing a hiding spot for these pests. Simply check the sacks daily, collect and dispose of the hidden snails and slugs.


  • Environmentally friendly
  • Easy to apply


  • Time-consuming
  • May not eliminate all pests

Managing Hairy Caterpillars and Other Insects

Hairy caterpillars, such as monarchs, can also be removed manually. However, wear gloves to avoid irritation from their hairs.

When managing garden insects, note that some, like predatory snails, are beneficial in controlling other garden pests.

Method Pros Cons
Hand-picking Environmentally friendly, easy to do Time-consuming, may not be 100% effective
Predator snails Natural solution, efficient Need to introduce and maintain population

To summarize:

  • Hand-pick snails, slugs, and hairy caterpillars
  • Use burlap sacks to trap snails and slugs
  • Consider introducing predator snails in your garden to manage pests naturally
  • When dealing with hairy caterpillars, wear gloves for protection
  • Be mindful of the environment and avoid harming beneficial insects

Preventing Future Infestations

Practices for a Healthy Garden

  • Plant garlic: Planting garlic around your garden helps deter giant swallowtail caterpillars. Garlic’s strong smell repels pests.
  • Rotate crops: Rotate your crops and avoid planting citrus family plants in the same location every year. This helps reduce the likelihood of infestations in the future.
  • Encourage beneficial insects: Attract predators like ladybugs and lacewings to your garden. They help keep giant swallowtail caterpillar populations under control.

Keeping a Close Eye on Plant Health

  • Monitor plants: Regularly inspect your garden plants, especially those in the citrus family, for caterpillar eggs and remove them promptly. Giant swallowtail caterpillars can severely damage citrus plants.
  • Check for glandular trichomes: Kansas gardeners should keep an eye out for glandular trichomes on the undersides of leaves, which may attract giant swallowtail caterpillars.
  • Healthy plants: Maintain overall plant health as healthier plants are less susceptible to caterpillar infestation. Regular watering, proper fertilizing, and pruning are essential for a healthy garden.

Pros & Cons of Garlic as a Pest Deterrent

Pros Cons
Natural Effectiveness varies
No harmful chemicals Requires regular replanting
Easy to grow May not work for all pests

Remember to practice these healthy gardening techniques and keep a close eye on your plant health to prevent future infestations of giant swallowtail caterpillars in your garden.


  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

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  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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Tags: Giant Swallowtail

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14 Comments. Leave new

  • How do I get rid of them and protect my trees in the future?

    Thank You,

  • How do I get rid of them and protect my trees in the future?

    Thank You,

  • What do you do to get rid of it? It has started at the bottom branches of tree and eating all leaves and blooms!! It is a lime tree!

  • This is a grub. Most likely larvae of June beetle. No wait! Looked again and grub photo is gone! Nevermind.

  • Janice Jones
    May 19, 2017 8:31 pm

    Don’t let the look foul you can be a few seconds away from the pain if it stick those two forky like things in you. I was a citrus harvester years ago and got bit of course I didn’t get sick never will I expect to feel anything like that again. Its sudden dart the pain is like fire all at once. So just be very careful and please keep away from children.

    • To the best of our knowledge, the osmeterium is a fleshy organ that cannot pierce human skin. it is an organ that releases a foul odor to help deter predators. Many citrus trees have spines and we suspect you might have been pricked by a tree spine and not by an Orange Dog.

  • I am enjoying the development of the orange Dog? I found in my orange tree (california) just don’t want a lot of them being that it is mcurrantly eating a leaf.

  • Go on Facebook and find a butterfly page that’s local. Them them. They will come remove them. Once removed you can get a spray at Home improvement store to prevent from coming back

  • Barb McFarland
    November 16, 2019 6:21 pm

    I could not figure out what the giant “bird droppings” we’re doing walking around my citrus plant. Now I know. Where will the become butterflies?
    The life cycle is difficult to fin.

  • Barb McFarland
    November 16, 2019 6:21 pm

    I could not figure out what the giant “bird droppings” we’re doing walking around my citrus plant. Now I know. Where will the become butterflies?
    The life cycle is difficult to fin.


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