Mourning Cloak: # 10 of “23 Butterflies in 2023”

Leonard Weber

March 8, 2023

The Mourning Cloak is one of the earliest butterflies of the year, often the very first. And it probably has the longest adult lifespan of all North American butterflies.

On Wild Bergamot in midJuly

I usually see the first Mournibg Cloak in Eliza Howell Park in April, but have seen one as early as March 18. They hibernate as adults, sheltering under tree bark or in a hollow log or in a similar location, and they emerge on a warm sunny spring day. It’s exciting to see one before the leaves are on the trees, but I do not yet have any photos from these early appearances.

In early July

When they emerge from hibernation in the spring, Mourning Cloaks have already lived about 10 months as adults and are ready to mate. The next generation usually appears in June, is active for a few weeks, then enters a dornant period for the rest of the summer. It becomes active again in the fall, before winter hibernation.

I think this individual (next photo) might have just emerged from the chrysalis when I spotted it.

June 24

The Mouning Cloak feeds on tree sap and rotting fruit more than it does on flower nectar. In the spring, when sapsuckers make rows of holes in trees for sap, Mourning Cloaks sometimes help themselves to the flowing food. This is one place to look for them in April

Yellow-bellied Sapsiucker. Photo by Margaret Weber

They do at times visit wildflowers in late June and in July. This has been my best opportunity to get photos.

On milkweed in late June

Mourning Cloaks are widespread geographically and they are found in a variety of habitats — including forests, fields, and parks. They are widespread but in most locations they are not numerous

It takes being in “the right place at the right time” and/or persistence to get a good look at one.

On Purple Coneflower in mid-July

Thoigh I cannot assure visitors to the park in the summer of 2023 that they are likely to see a Mourning Cloak, I think it does belong on this list. It’s such an “Aha!” experience to find one, both because of its beauty and because of the nature of its annual cycle, that I encourage everyone to seek the experience.

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