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Nature in it's glory

Nature in it's glory

Jan 6, 2011

Mourning Cloak: a Grand Surprise

Catching some rays
I sincerely hope everyone had happy holidays and that your New Year celebration was both peaceful and filled with joy.

The New Year, for some reason, always has me skipping ahead to spring and summer in my mind.  This year my focus seems to be on butterflies, although typically I do not see them very often.  Perhaps I have simply not been visiting the right locations.  However, usually when I do see them, they are fluttering past me at speed, are high above me, or simply disappear, leaving me with little opportunity to photograph them.  But this past year was actually an exception and I'm hoping that this coming year will be the same.

The very first time that I went to explore the bigger forested area in my new neighborhood, the first thing that I saw in the way of wildlife was this  beautiful Mourning Cloak. ( I considered this to be a very good omen for my outing and not only because I happen to admire butterflies with all of their wonderful colors.)
This one appeared to be sunning himself, and so obliged me by sitting very still for quite some time, to my absolute delight.

Naturally I took as many pictures of this beauty as I could, in the time this opportunity presented, and once I sorted through the pictures on the computer, I immediately did some initial research to learn something about it other than it's most popular name.  It does have several other names that it is known by, including Angel-wing and White Pettycoat.   However, since I had also taken pictures of a couple of different bird species that I didn't recognize, I didn't immediately spend much time or attention on the information that I  gleaned, doing  research on identifying the birds instead.

Well I finally got back to my research on the Mourning Cloak, I learned some pretty fascinating, utterly amazing, and surprising facts about this butterfly.

Now, butterflies in general, although they appear to be delicate, are actually quite tough.  As you may or may not know, some butterflies migrate for thousands of miles just like birds.  Now given how fragile butterflies appear to be, and how short their typical life span is, that is astonishing in and of itself.  Nevertheless they also survive attacks by hungry predators, mainly birds, and I've seen videos of butterflies surviving near drowning by hungry, or perhaps just curious turtles.  The mourning cloak nevertheless appears to be the most resilient of them all, as it survives the winter, which is no doubt the reason behind one of the other names for this butterfly, which is "Grand Surprise".

Mourning Cloak butterfly
Since I have never seen a butterfly in spring, I most certainly would be surprised by the sight of one,  but not nearly as surprised as I am to learn this fact:   They actually hibernate!  Isn't that amazing?  What's even more amazing, and quite fascinating, is that they do so by entering a frozen state for the winter, one similar to the cryo-preservation of humans that you see so often in some of the sci-fi movies involving long distance space travel.

In order to allow them to do this, the Mourning Cloak begins building fat stores as soon as they emerge from their cocoons, when they immediately begin feeding on nectar and tree sap.  Then, as soon as the weather turns colder they seek a safe haven to hide in such as a tree cavity, a space under loose tree bark, or in small, tight crevices found in unheated, abandoned buildings where they remain for the duration of winter.  The Mourning Cloak then emerges in late March to immediately begin it's courtship flights.

This delightful species of wildlife is obviously a survivor, who is commonly found in North America, Britain, and Eurasia, and is considered to be a woodlands butterfly.  In the caterpillar stage, the Mourning Cloak is a spiny, red and black, caterpillar known as the Spring Elm Caterpillar. If you wish to learn more about this species of butterfly, or perhaps to view pictures of him in the caterpillar stage, just follow these links as usual:




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