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Adult Butterflies Emerging, Mating & Laying Eggs

4-23-18 eastern comma3 0U1A0780Butterflies that remain in New England during the winter spend it in one of many stages – some as eggs, others as larvae or pupae, and a few as adults. Mourning Cloaks, Compton Tortoiseshells, Milbert’s Tortoiseshells, Question Marks, Gray Commas and Eastern Commas all overwinter as adult butterflies. They store fat in their bodies in the fall and replace a portion of the water in their blood with an antifreeze agent, which prevents the lethal formation of ice crystals in their bodies. These butterflies then slip into cracks, behind loose bark, in a hollow tree or some other sheltered spot where they enter a stage referred to as winter diapause. Metabolic and respiratory rates are greatly reduced, and the butterflies remain inactive until the warming, lengthening days of March and April, when they emerge to mate and lay eggs. They often look rather tattered, as they put many miles on their wings the previous summer. Unlike most adult butterflies which live only a few weeks, butterflies that overwinter as adults have a lifespan of eight to ten months. (Photo: Eastern Comma – note white “comma” on under side of hindwing)

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6 responses

  1. Alice Pratt

    The Butterfly in the middle-ish sure is camouflaged. I didn’t know that adult Butterflies overwintered…..New England is so cold.

    April 25, 2018 at 8:55 am

  2. Sari Hoy

    I am holding off cleaning up leaves in a couple of my garden beds to allow time for insect eggs to hatch. I had no idea about overwintering butterflies. Do you have any advice how long I should wait to do that clean up?

    April 25, 2018 at 10:44 am

    • A great question — I can’t say for other creatures but butterflies and moths usually lay their eggs on host trees, shrubs, etc. so the larvae will have a meal right there when the eggs hatch ( timed to coincide when leaf buds are opening).

      April 25, 2018 at 11:00 am

  3. I saw a mourning cloak flitting around the other day. I find their overwintering quite miraculous.

    April 25, 2018 at 5:52 pm

  4. Marilyn

    The inset is the comma butterfly’s topside? Remarkable!

    April 26, 2018 at 12:14 pm

  5. Helen Downing

    Thanks to Alice and Marilyn, I finally understood what I was seeing in the photo! Such an amazing world! Thank you, Mary! This brought me such delight, in the midst of a gray day and a grim cold. It was a spring tonic!

    April 26, 2018 at 3:35 pm

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