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Posts Tagged ‘Mourning Cloak butterfly’

How long do butterflies live? According to most sources, Mourning Cloak butterflies (Nymphalis antiopa), which can live for 10-11 months, are thought to be the longest living butterflies in their range. I am always thrilled to see these darkly colored butterflies, which are known as “Camberwell beauties” in Great Britain, in the early spring and in the autumn.

Where are they the rest of the time? Mourning Cloaks spend part of the summer in aestivation, a hibernation-like state of inactivity to avoid the heat and lack of water. They are active in the fall, eating voraciously to fatten up and then overwinter as adults in another state of dormancy, often on the underside of fallen trees. In the spring, they reawaken to eat, mate, and die. In the north, there is often only a single brood annually, but in the south there may be two or more.

I spotted this butterfly on the first of October at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. It looked to me like the butterfly was getting nutrients from the soil or possibly from animal droppings—unlike some butterflies, Mourning Cloaks do not rely on nectar from flowers as a primary source of nutrition.

Mourning Cloak

Mourning Cloak

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Yesterday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge I finally spotted my first full-sized butterfly of the spring, which was, not surprisingly, a Mourning Cloak butterfly (Nymphalis antiopa). Unlike some other species that migrate, Mourning Cloak butterflies overwinter with us as adults in a hibernation-like state and awake to mate in the early spring. Generally, therefore, they are among the first butterflies to appear in the spring.

Mourning Cloak butterfly

© 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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