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Giant swallowtail caterpillars

A giant swallowtail caterpillar.
Wikimedia Commons
A giant swallowtail caterpillar.

The larval stage of the giant swallowtail butterfly is a caterpillar that resembles bird droppings. These caterpillars are considered pests due to the habit of feeding on citrus plants, leading them to be commonly referred to as "orangedogs" in Florida.



Hi, this is Rudy Mancke from University of South Carolina for NatureNotes.

Gary sent me a photograph of a crazy looking caterpillar that he had seen associated with his tangelo tree and he wanted to know what it was. It was the larva, the caterpillar, of a giant swallowtail butterfly. I mean, it's our largest swallowtail.

And it always lays eggs on members of the citrus family and that serves as the larval food plant. These are very common in Florida where they grow oranges, and they refer to them as "orangedogs" because they're not happy about them eating the leaves of orange trees.

Front of it looks like a snake with scales on the front and then the rest of the body looks like bird droppings. I mean, it's doubly camouflaged. And that gives some protection to the caterpillar.

Strange and unusual world, isn't it?

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Rudy Mancke served as naturalist and co-host of South Carolina ETV's <i>NatureScene</i>, which began its long run in 1978. His field trips, broadcast nationwide, earned him a legion of dedicated viewers. Rudy's knowledge of the complex inner-workings of different ecosystems and his great admiration for the natural world make him the perfect guide. In fact, the National Wildlife Federation and the Garden Club of America honored his commitment to resource conservation with special awards. After retiring from SCETV, Rudy went on to become naturalist-in-residence at the University of South Carolina, Columbia. He hosted SC Public Radio's <i>NatureNotes</i> from 1999 until his death in 2023 at age 78.