A flash of gold… A quick flutter followed by erratic flight then another flash of gold… Did it finally land? Did I lose it? All I see are dead leaves… Ah-ha! There it is pretending to be the dead leaf it is sitting on. And it stayed still long enough to get a picture!
I see one or two of these lovely creatures most springs, but they are super sporadic fliers, darting from one patch of sun to another. Landing to sun, then zipping away the second I get close. They almost never land and hold still long enough for me to get a photo. And what good is a story without a photo? This early spring flutter-by is the handsome Morning Cloak, Nymphalis antiopa (family: Nymphalidae).
Despite it’s sad name, there’s no need to cry over the Mourning Cloak. Even though I usually only find maybe a couple each year, Mourning cloak populations are doing just fine - according to the conservation powers that be (like the IUCN or CITES) anyway. Well, at least in North America. In parts of Europe though, the Mourning Cloak, or Camberwell Beauty as it is more commonly known as over there, is a protected species.
Which brings up that the Mourning Cloak is found throughout North America and in northern parts of Europe and Asia. It’s actually somewhat unusual for a species to be found around the world and not be an invasive species. Of which the Mourning Cloak is not. The Mourning Cloak is most commonly found in hardwood forests or somewhat wooded areas, but can be found in meadows and open areas too. It all depends on where their host trees are. While the butterflies themselves don’t really eat much, preferring to drink the liquids of fermenting fruits or sap coming off trees (instead of drinking flower nectar like a normal butterfly), their caterpillars do need food. The caterpillars (aka baby butterflies) eat the leaves of a number of different trees, including willows, elms, mulberries, cottonwoods and poplars, birch, and hackberries.
The caterpillars rarely do enough damage to the trees to be notable, although some places in Canada have designated them as a pest. A lovely, lovely pest. In large groups, the caterpillars are capable of defoliating whole branches of a tree. Not a problem here though. Considering I have a ton of cottonwood/poplars, as well as mulberry and willow trees, on my property that they are more than welcome to chow down on, it would be nice to see more than just one or two of these butterflies a year. Alas. I’ve never seen any of the caterpillars, although as rare as it is for me to find an adult, I suppose that is not a surprise. The caterpillars of the Mourning Cloak usually go by a different name than the adults. They are called Spiny Elm Caterpillars. If you do see one of the caterpillars though – don’t touch it. The striking, mostly black caterpillars with bright red spots, have some large spines attached- and those spines can give a nasty sting to human flesh. Note to self… Do not pick up every cool looking bug you find… Lol. We’ll see if I remember. No guarantees…
While the caterpillars have stinging barbs to try and protect them from the many things that would like to eat a plump, juicy caterpillar, the butterflies take a completely different route to avoid predators. They just try to look inedible, lol. As pretty as the butterfly is when its wings are open, when its wings are closed, it looks just like a dead leaf. And who would want to eat an old dead leaf? The gray and brown patterning on the undersides of its wings also lets the butterfly easily camouflage itself against a lot of tree barks. Convenient for when they are sucking up tree sap!
To read more about the Mourning Cloak, check out:
🦋✨💖 Thank you sponsors! 💕✨🦋
Thank you to all our wonderful patrons and sponsors - we truly appreciate your support.
Special thanks to this month’s Super Great Nature Lover Patron level sponsor:
We Stand with Ukraine
Our hearts go out to those suffering from the Russian-Ukraine war.
If you are in a position to do so, please consider helping those in Ukraine:
Sunflowers for Solidarity (Burpee to Red Cross donation)
Questions? Comments? Corrections?
I’d love to know what you thought and what’s on your mind. Email it to me at email@example.com or enter it into the box below. I’ll do everything I can to answer your questions, address your comments, and keep the stories updated :)
We’re also on Facebook so you can leave a comment or start a discussion there too if you prefer that medium…
Join the email list
Support the blog
Like my blog? Want to help keep the new content coming and the pages ad free? Consider becoming one of my Patreon Patrons! Any amount, big or small, helps me spend more time creating and less time trying to keep the lights on. Patreon Patrons can also get exclusive access to monthly newsletters, story sneak peeks, story requests, and more! Please consider supporting the blog and check out my Patreon Patron support page.
Ok, you say, but what is this Patreon thing you are talking about? Patreon is a service that helps connect content creators with folks who want to help support creative endeavors. Patreon is setup to be able to safely handle the financial side of transactions so both the patron and the creator can be confident their information is secure. You can read more about what Patreon is HERE.
Want Bug News in print? We’ve got you covered :)
Our Bug News Newsletters are now in print and available on Amazon.com:
Gifts & Swag Galore
Now you can get prints of some of our favorite critters on Red Bubble! Everything from tote bags and pillows, to greeting cards and note books, to t-shirts and mugs!
Check out it out HERE. The store is organized by design, so pick a critter picture to see all the gift options :)
Here are just a few examples:
And so much more! Check out all the bug patterns HERE.