A rare sight

The Giant Swallowtail is the largest butterfly in Canada and is usually found only in southwestern Ontario, not here in eastern Ontario (see Edit below – it’s no longer rare here). I’ve been seeing one (or perhaps two) quite frequently this summer, but either I’ve not had my camera, or the butterfly just quickly passed by. So, I was happy to find this one on a field walk with my camera one afternoon this past week. I had the macro lens, which wasn’t ideal for a butterfly I can’t ever get very close to, but it stayed around longer than usual. It was a breezy day and when the butterfly was on a flower, it was constantly vibrating its wings. I thought it was trying to keep its balance in the wind, but they actually do this whenever they’re feeding to avoid bending the flower head over due to their size (Government of Canada).

Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes)

The government website notes that in 1992, one Giant Swallowtail sighting was reported in the Ottawa area after a hurricane to the south, so it seems quite unusual for us to have these regular visitors (I also saw one last summer). Do you see them where you live?

(Edit: It turns out that the Giant Swallowtail has been rapidly expanding its range to the north, due to climate change. The Toronto Star ran a story featuring the Giant Swallowtail on August 19th called, “Species migrating north at ‘two and three times faster’ than reported” by Lesley Ciarula Taylor.)

Deptford Pink (Dianthus armeria)

The tiny Deptford Pink – the flower head is approximately half an inch wide.


Government of Canada (2002). Butterflies of Canada, Giant Swallowtail: http://www.cbif.gc.ca/spp_pages/butterflies/species/GiantSwallowtail_e.php

Taylor, L. (August 19, 2011). Species migrating north at ‘two and three times faster’ than reported. thestar.com: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/1042003–species-migrating-north-at-two-and-three-times-faster-than-reported

Note: The owners of referenced or linked-to materials do not endorse me or this site.

29 Responses to “A rare sight”
  1. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

    The photographs of the butterfly are lovely!

  2. Very uniquely beautiful! I guess being that it’s unusual to have them in your area makes seeing them especially awesome! Anyway, you captured the essence of its beauty very well. As for where I live here in Florida, giant swallowtail butterflies are abundant. I always love seeing them. They truly are a gift from nature, and I cherish their beauty. Thanks so much for sharing.

    • That’s true, it’s their rarity that makes it especially exciting to see one, although seeing any butterfly is wonderful. It sounds like you still appreciate seeing them even though they are abundant – you must have so much variety in species there. Thanks so much for your kind comment!

  3. sandy says:

    No, not ever down here. I am very glad I got to see this one!

  4. Meanderer says:

    Beautiful photographs – and how wonderful to find a rarely-seen butterfly!

    • Thanks Meanderer! I was so happy to finally get a photo of it, though do wish I’d been able to get closer or had my other lens that’s away getting fixed. Maybe there will be another chance.

  5. Sybil says:

    Never seen a butterfly like that ! Amazing ! Love you second photo the best.

    • Thanks for coming over, Sybil, that’s my favourite, too. My “in-flight” shots don’t usually turn out at all. You’d sure know if you saw one, they are huge and fly in a kind of ‘hopping’ fashion.

  6. EvilPoet says:

    Wonderful pictures! I love butterflies. I’m in Northern Nevada – I don’t get to see butterflies as much as I used to when I lived in Southern California. The first spring I was here I saw a few Swallowtails and Monarchs but that was about it. At the time I had an herb garden on my patio and was pleasantly surprised one morning by two caterpillars who had decided to make my garden their temporary home. No caterpillars in the garden this year but I’ve seen a lot more Monarchs and Swallowtails than I ever have since I’ve lived here.

    • It’s so interesting hearing where everyone’s from. I’ve never been to Nevada, but have seen photos of trips friends have taken, and it looks beautiful. Nice to hear it’s a good year for monarchs and swallowtails where you are, despite fewer caterpillars in your garden. Thanks for coming by!

  7. Montucky says:

    That’s a beautiful butterfly and your photos of it are excellent! I’ve not seen that variety here.

    Nice shot of the Deptford Pink. They are so pretty, aren’t they!

  8. Lisa says:

    what a treasure, to have found something so unusual – and that first photo is amazing! it looks almost human sized, as if it’s taking on the world.

  9. Love these photos, Cait! I have not seen the Giant Swallowtail here in Georgia. We have the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. I can relate to the difficulty of photographing butterflies. I’ve been trying for weeks to get photos I like of a male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail!

  10. A beautiful sighting, and the lovely images match the rarity of the occasion…

    • Thanks Julian. I just found a story in the Toronto Star from last week that said the Giant Swallowtail has moved north to our area due to climate change (while 10 years ago there were none here). So, as beautiful as they are, it’s actually not a positive sign that we’re seeing them.

  11. Donald says:

    can’t say that i have seen one here in maine, but will start paying more attention to the butterflies, just in case.

  12. Barbara Rodgers says:

    What exquisite shots, Cait! I love how sharply the antennae and legs are focused on the second one. Fuzzy memory here, this swallowtail seems familiar to me, but I don’t know if I saw one or two of them as a child here in Connecticut, or perhaps while visiting relatives in Florida.

  13. What a photogenic butterfly and flower! The lighting and angle is wonderful in the top image.

  14. Deb W says:

    I’ve got a story that I must tell you, now that I have the time …
    I first read this post last week and, the very next day while working outside, I saw something out of the corner of my eye that I initially thought was a bird, but no, it hadn’t the right motion. When it reappeared, out from behind the truck, I realized that it was one of “your” Giant Swallowtails. It flew up and over the garage and, when I followed it to the other side, it swooped down and looped around my head as if to say “Hello!” Twice, just in case I had thought the first was accidental. I had a sudden rush of happiness from that brief encounter which I cannot even begin to describe. I also had the overwhelming impression of my father’s presence… (Dad passed away more than five years ago). Even sitting here right now, I’m still blown away by that feeling over a week later.
    Thank you, D.

    • They do seem so joyful the way they flutter about. That sounds like a powerful experience, Deb, thanks so much for sharing it. And what a coincidence that you would see a Giant Swallowtail the day after reading about it here. The world works in mysterious ways!

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