Mourning Cloak

Nymphalis antiopa

The Mourning Cloak is one of my favorite butterflies. The first time I ever saw one it was a cold day near the end of November. I turned over a large rock and discovered a Mourning Cloak hibernating beneath it. At the time I did not realize that some butterflies hibernated, and I was fascinated that so delicate a creature was able to survive Wisconsin winters by hiding in cracks, crevasses, or crannies in the woods.

I appreciate this species even more on the first warm days of March, when I go to my favorite hill to look for first butterfly of the year, which is more often than not a Mourning Cloak. Later in the spring, as I roam the woods looking for hepaticas and other spring flowers, this species, soaring high through the leafless treetops, casts large, bird-like shadows on the beds of spring flowers.

Weekly sightings for Mourning Cloak

Identifying characteristics

Above, this butterfly is a brownish/red color with a wide yellow margin, and a row of blue submarginal spots. These butterflies are one of the longest-lived butterflies in Wisconsin, living up to 10 months. Individuals seen in May or June are fairly worn, having lost their bright colors, and often appear dull brown, with their yellow border faded to white.

Below, this species is brown with a white border, very well camouflaged among leaves and on tree trunks.

Similar species

None in Wisconsin.

Habitat

Woodlands, woodland edges, parks, and rarely (despite the photos) in open fields taking nectar.

Flight

This butterfly has one brood which emerges in July, flies throughout the summer and fall, hibernates, and then flies and mates in the spring. I have seen several very worn Mourning Cloak butterflies in June, their wings tattered from living through at least three different seasons.

Abundance

Although it is usually seen singly, the Mourning Cloak is a fairly common butterfly throughout Wisconsin and one that should be expected in every county.

Locations

Map showing sighting locations for Mourning Cloak
Map key
Mourning CloakClick to enlarge

This one looks pretty good for overwintering in wisconsin!

Sandhill Wildlife Area, Wood Co., WI, April 5, 2008.

Mourning CloakClick to enlarge

Monroe County Flowage, end of Dragonfly Road, Monroe Co., WI, July 23, 2008.

Mourning CloakClick to enlarge

Fox River NWR, Marquette Co., WI. July 7, 2005.

Mourning CloakClick to enlarge

Wood County Wildlife Area, Wood County, WI. April 29, 2007.

Mourning CloakClick to enlarge

Poygan Marsh, Waushara Co., WI. August 8, 2003.