Sunday, April 12, 2009


I felt I should rearrange the data about Mourning Cloaks into the entry which actually features a picture of the butterfly. Once I return from the cruise, I will upload pictures of the adult Mourning Cloak.

*Update: I have returned, today is 25 April, and the chrysalis was formed on 6 April. That means that the chrysalis is 18 days old. It would appear that the estimate I found online was rather off, either that or my butterfly is taking its time. Here is a photo of the chrysalis, much developed. If you look closely, the abdomen segment has stretched, and the wing segment shows a lighter band around the edge, which corresponds to the yellow band on the edge of the Mourning Cloak's wing. From what I can tell, the butterfly is alive and well, and about to burst from its cocoon. I am glad I am here to see it!*

*Second Update - it has been 23 days now, and I extracted the butterfly from its dry chrysalis. The butterfly is completely intact, not dried out, but is unable to complete metamorphosis - possibly because it does not have enough energy/chemical reserves to emerge from its dormant state. Here are the photos of the extracted butterfly.

Mourning Cloak butterflies are members of Nymphalidae, or Brush-Footed Butterflies. There are about 210 species in North America, and they earned their name because the front legs are reduced and lack claws. Only the middle and hind legs are used in walking. The chrysalids are also suspended by the cremaster, a spinelike or hooked process at the posterior end of the pupa which is used for attachment.

Lepidoptera; Papilionoidea; Nymphalidae; Nymphalinae; Nymphalis antiopa
Common Name (Adult): Mourning Cloak

The Mourning Cloak derives its name from greek - Nymphalis means "of or pertaining to a fountain" and Antiopa was the name of the wife of Lycus, king of Thebes. A little history on Antiopa - she was the daughter of Nycteus and was violated by Epaphus. As a result, her husband cast her away and remarried Dirce. Dirce suspected her husband was cheating on her with his ex-wife, so she commanded that Antiopa be confined. At the time, she was pregnant, but she managed to escape and gave birth on Mount Cithaeron. Her twin children were raised by shepherds, and eventually learned of their heritage and avenged Antiopa by binding Dirce to an untamed bull. I have no clue how this pertains to the butterfly, perhaps the hardship of overwintering?

Apparently Mourning Cloaks are one of the earliest emerging butterflies of the spring season, and like other early season butterflies, they have dark colors. Darker colors increase heat absorption from the sun, aiding them in these cooler days before summer. Mourning Cloaks are also one of the longest lived butterflies, surviving for 8-11 months and overwintering. Of course, an individual Mourning Cloak probably doesn't live that long due to environmental hazards and predation. Mourning Cloak larvae also tend to aggregate together, as their spines are more repellent to predators in large numbers. However, when they have finished growing, they go off on their own to find a safe place to form a chrysalis.

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