Giant Swallowtails and Satsumas

Giant Swallowtails and Satsumas

Gardeners that have Satsumas, commonly known as orange mandarin (Citrus reticulate), probably have experienced a caterpillar called Orangedog.  It is a chewing insect that feeds on citrus foliage including Satsuma and a few other plant species.  The caterpillar is dark brown with creamy-white, mottled markings and is the larval stage of the giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes). It is a striking, wonderfully “exotic”-looking butterfly that is very abundant in Florida. 

Young larva of the giant swallowtail, Papilio cresphontes Cramer, (illustrating bird dropping mimicry) Credit: Donald Hall, University of Florida

Young larva of the giant swallowtail,  Illustrating bird dropping mimicry.
Donald Hall, University of Florida

Many who have encountered the caterpillar for the first time describe them as looking similar to bird droppings.  They can grow up to 1.5 to 2 inches in length and are the larval stage of the adult giant swallowtail butterfly.  Established Satsuma trees can easily withstand the loss of a few leaves by Orangedog feeding.  Small or newly planted Satsumas can be infested with numerous Orangedog Caterpillars on occasion, especially a single tree growing in a landscape.

A simple control measure consists of finding and crushing eggs and larva (GH-026). Bt, a biological control for most caterpillar species, is effective but should rarely be used since the beauty of this butterfly far outweighs the damage caused by them.

 Adult giant swallowtail, with wings closed. Credit: Donald Hall, University of Florida

Adult giant swallowtail, with wings closed.
Donald Hall, University of Florida



Protect Young Satsuma Trees

According to the National Weather Service a mild freeze is predicted for Northwest Florida this weekend, specifically Saturday night to Sunday morning. Washington County Horticulture extension agent Matthew Orwat says,” While mature, dormant Satsuma trees are cold hardy down to 14° – 18 °F, young trees need protection if temperatures dip into the upper 20s.”


Photo Credits David Marshall

Here are a few techniques to protect young citrus trees from late-season freezes:

  • Wrap the trunk with commercial tree wrap or mound soil around the base of the tree up to 2 feet. This will protect the graft of the young tree. Thus, if the branches freeze the graft union will be protected.


  • Cover the tree with a cloth sheet or blanket. For additional protection, large bulb Christmas lights may be placed around the branches of the tree. This will increase the temperature under the cover by several degrees. Be sure to use outdoor lights and outdoor extension cords to avoid the potential of fire.


  • Water your Satsuma trees. Well watered trees have increased cold hardiness.


  • Frames may be installed around young trees to hold the cover. This option keeps the blanket or sheet from weighing down the branches.


  • For homeowners with lemon, lime or other less cold hardy citrus, micro-irrigation is an option. This practice will protect citrus trees up to 5 feet, but must be running throughout the entire freeze event. For additional information click here.


  • Always remember to remove cold protection once the temperature rises so that the trees  do not overheat


  • Do not cover trees with plastic tarps, these will not protect the tree and can “cook” the tree once temperatures rise.

Please see the following publications by retired UF / IFAS Extension agents Theresa Friday and David Marshall for additional information regarding freeze protection of citrus.