Photograph in public domain, author unknown.
The Giant Swallowtail is the largest butterfly in the United States. In fact, some sources have documented the female reaching wingspans of nearly 7.5 inches. Keep your eyes out. The timing may be right for a sighting! I saw one in Belmont.
This was my first encounter with this species. Much to my surprise I spotted it dancing across our yard this morning. It was moving fast. It sipped from a butterfly bush in our front yard for about ten seconds, and headed east along Hinton Avenue (downtown, Charlottesville).
Populations are known to be quite scattered and unpredictable the farther north you go. Their flight range is quite broad, covering much of the Eastern United States. However, their host plants are limited to specific areas, and the butterfly is mostly seen in the mountains west of town (in our region). It frequents citrus groves in the south (considered a pest in some circles!).
All of its host plants are relatively unfamiliar to me:
>A variety of citrus trees
>Common rue Ruta graveolens
>Common hoptree Ptelea trifoliata
>Common pricklyash Zanthoxylum americanum
For a full description of this butterfly, visit this site: http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species?l=1366