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Mourning Cloak Butterflies

With the warm temperatures this week, mourning cloak butterflies have been seen gliding through the leafless woods.  Like eastern commas, question marks and red admirals, mourning cloaks overwinter as adults.  They resemble dead leaves so much that from a distance the entire insect seems to disappear.  Up close you can see the velvety texture of the wing scales, said to resemble the clothing mourners used to wear; hence, their common name. Mourning cloaks live up to ten months — an impressive life span for a butterfly.  As they age, the yellow border of their wings fades to an off-white.

5 responses

  1. Emily Seiffert

    Beautiful! In addition to the cloth being of dark velvet, I believe mourning attire was often trimmed in white lace, making the Mourning Cloak butterfly perfectly dressed for a funeral, or our early spring woods, so full of new life.

    March 25, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    • That’s so interesting, Emily! I hadn’t heard or read about the lace, but it makes perfect sense!

      March 25, 2012 at 3:31 pm

  2. Anthony

    Mary, could you please explain the “overwintering” process/state for the mourning cloaks?

    March 25, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    • Hi Anthony,
      Many insects undergo a process called “diapause” in the winter (and some in the summer) during which their metabolism slows way down, and their food and oxygen requirements are greatly diminished and movement is greatly reduced. Extreme temperatures, drought and lack of food can trigger it. Diapause occurs in all stages in different insects — Gypsy Moth eggs, Woolly Bear larvae, Cecropia Moth pupa and mourning cloak adults. It’s basically a state of dormancy in which development ceases. Hope this helps!

      March 25, 2012 at 5:06 pm

      • Anthony


        March 26, 2012 at 11:04 pm

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