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Posts Tagged ‘Camberwell Beauty’

Life can be rough when you have fragile wings. I spotted this Mourning Cloak butterfly (Nymphalis antiopa) last Friday at Occoquan Regional Park and could not help but notice the significant damage to its wings. The damage might have actually happened last fall, given that this species overwinters with us as adults, awakens in the spring, and has a lifespan of 11-12 months, one of the longest lifespans for any butterfly.

As I poked about on the internet, I was intrigued to learn that this species is known as the Camberwell Beauty in the United Kingdom. I do not see Mourning Cloak butterflies very often—most of the time it is only when I am in a wooded area, rather than in a marsh or open field. When I do spot one, it is usually hyperactive and I rarely have the chance to capture an image.

The second photo below is the only other photo that I have managed to take of one this spring, and I took it from quite a distance away. Still, I like the way that it shows some of the butterfly’s habitat. I always have to remind myself of the value of these kind of environmental portraits—my normal tendency is to get close with either a macro or a telephoto lens and isolate the subject from its background.

Mourning Cloak

Mourning Cloak

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I spotted a beautiful Mourning Cloak butterfly (Nymphalis antiopa) this past weekend at Huntley Meadows Park and suspect that it recently emerged. I always thought of  Mourning Cloaks, which are apparently known as Camberwell Beauties in Great Britain, only as an early spring butterfly, because I knew that they overwinter with us as adults.

After doing a little research, I learned that the hardy winter survivors mate in the early spring and then die. The eggs turn into caterpillars that pupate and the new butterflies emerge in June or July. After briefly feeding, the butterflies will enter into a state of dormancy (called aestivation) for the summer. I must confess that I was not familiar with the word “aestivation” when I first ran across it and had to look it up. As far as I can tell, it’s the summer equivalent of hibernation. Last year I remember learning the word “brumation,” which is a hibernation-like state that helps turtles survive in the mud during the winter. Who knew there were so many hibernation-type states?

In the fall, the Mourning Cloak butterflies will go on a real feeding frenzy to store up energy for the long winter. It’s amazing to realize that these butterflies have a life span of 10 months, which is an eternity in the insect world.

Mourning Cloak

Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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