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Mourning Cloak Butterflies Out From Under Tree Bark

mourning cloak butterfly IMG_5755Mourning Cloaks have recently emerged from under loose bark where they hibernated all winter. These early flyers, along with a few other species such as commas and tortoiseshells, have a jump start in the spring due to their not having to go through metamorphosis like most butterflies. Born last summer, Mourning Cloaks live for roughly ten months (longer than most butterflies), overwintering and breeding and laying eggs soon after appearing in the spring. This summer their larvae will feed on willows and poplars before pupating and emerging as adults in time to seek shelter for the winter. With snow still on the ground, nectar is quite scarce, leaving butterflies that are active this time of year dependent on tree sap available where branches have broken for much of their sustenance.

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9 responses


    I find light brown moths in the sap buckets all the time, but never butterflies. I wonder why?

    April 7, 2015 at 9:55 am

  2. Wow! One more “I had no idea this was happening!” moment for me… Thanks for so many of these, Mary!

    April 7, 2015 at 10:14 am

  3. Awesome photo!

    April 7, 2015 at 12:15 pm

  4. I can’t wait to keep my eyes open to see if I can see one!

    April 7, 2015 at 1:16 pm

  5. Tree sap makes sense and there are always broken branches from storms, it’s a perfect adaptation. Love the camouflage colors of leaves, bark and shadow.

    April 7, 2015 at 3:04 pm

  6. Jean Harrison

    Hi, Mary, Does the 10-month life refer to as an adult, or the whole life including egg-caterpillar-chrysalis? I think I asked you this before and you said as adult. The staff and docents here at Natural Bridges State Park in Santa Cruz continue to tell people the longest lived adult North American butterfly is the Monarch, up to 9 months for the migratory generation.

    April 7, 2015 at 3:48 pm

    • I think they’re both at the extreme end of the range of time that adult butterflies live…I’ve sources that say mourning cloaks live 10 months, and monarchs 9. Hope that helps! Mary

      April 7, 2015 at 9:38 pm

  7. Funny story. When I was a young mother back in the days before Google and hand-held devices, we found a Mourning Cloak just about this time of year, and I thought it was a butterfly who had morphed from a cocoon too early. I wrapped it up and sent it with my mom who was going to Florida, I don’t remember the end result. I have a feeling it probably didn’t survive the trip, but I have since learned that they are to be left to their own devices! Also, their name is from the large dark shawls ladies used to wear in times of mourning. They are actually very beautiful up close. That velvety brown with the blue trim is gorgeous in the spring sun!

    April 8, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    • That’s such a great story, Helen! You’ve been an ardent naturalist your whole life!

      April 8, 2015 at 2:43 pm

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