Mourning Cloak Butterfly

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Photo by Brenda Dziedzic

Nymphalis antiopa (nim-fal-iss • an-tee-oh-pa) 

Family:Nymphalidae (Brushfoots) (nim-FAL-ah-dee)

Flight period: March–October 

South: All year

Wingspan: 3–4 inches

Photo by Hillstar Editions L.C.


Dorsal/upperside. Photo by Brenda Dziedzic

The dorsal/upperside is purplish-black with a broad yellow border and a row of iridescent blue spots just inside of the border.

Ventral/underside. Photo by Brenda Dziedzic

The ventral/underside is dark brown and bark-like in appearance with a yellowish border.

Host/Larval Food Plants

Elm — Ulmus spp.

Hackberry — Celtis spp.

Paper Birch — Betula papyrifera

Poplar — Populus spp.

Sugarberry — Celtis laevigata

Willow — Salix spp.

Black Willow – Salix nigra. Photo by Brenda Dziedzic

The Life Cycle

Photo by Brenda Dziedzic

Photo by Peter Bryant

Photo by Brenda Dziedzic

Mourning Cloaks have 1 or 2 broods each year. The eggs are laid in clusters around twigs and on the leaves of the host plant. They are yellowish-cream with white ridges when first laid. As they develop, they turn red and then black. Each egg is slightly smaller than 1/32 inch wide. It takes 10 to 14 days for the eggs to hatch.

Photo by Brenda Dziedzic

The caterpillars stay together until they are fully grown. At that time, they will leave the host plant in search of a place to make their chrysalises.

Photo by Ron Hemberger

The caterpillar stage lasts for 14 to 18 days. In the last instar, the caterpillar is about 23/16 inches long.

Photo by Marcie O’Connor

The chrysalis stage lasts for 8 to 15 days.

The adult overwinters in tree crevices, hollow logs and other sheltered spots. They can be seen on warm, sunny winter days. In the summer, they may aestivate during the hottest months. They can live up to 12 months.

Adult Food

Photo by Brenda Dziedzic

Mourning Cloaks prefer dung, rotting fruit and tree sap, but they also feed on Andromeda Bush, Brazilian Verbena, Butterfly Bush, Cherry Blossoms, Coneflower, Dog- bane, Goldenrod, Lantana, Lilac, Manzanita, Milkweed, New Jersey Tea, Pussy Willow Flowers and Shasta Daisy.

More from Raising Butterflies in the Garden:

Cover courtesy of Firefly Books

This excerpt is taken from Raising Butterflies in the Garden by butterfly expert Brenda Dziedzic, with the permission of Firefly Books Ltd.

Mother Earth Gardener
Mother Earth Gardener
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