Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)

Male Morning Cloak butterfly (Nymphalis antiopa);NPS, Richard Lund,2002
Male Mourning Cloak butterfly (Nymphalis antiopa);NPS, Richard Lund,2002

This is usually one of the earliest-flying butterfly I see in here in the Philadelphia area, but I have seen just one all spring. It is was in my garden.


Mourning Cloaks Emerge in the Spring

In early spring, this butterfly looks quite ragged. They spend the winter hibernating in crevices and beneath the bark of trees.

The Mourning Cloak resembles the Spicebush Swallowtail, but the Mourning Cloaks blue spots extend around the entire wing. The Spicebush Swallowtail has blue just on the hid wing.

The underside of a Mourning Cloak is a mottled gray and brown. I suppose this is for camouflage. Apparently, this butterfly will make a clicking sound when you approach. I haven’t heard it yet.

  • Wingspan: 2 1/4 inches (5.08 centimeters) to 3 3/8 inches (7.62centimeters) across. Wing edges are ragged and are often closed over body while at rest.


Fast Facts About the Mourning Cloak

  • Common name: Mourning Cloak
  • Scientific name: Nymphalis antiopa
  • Family: Brush-footed Butterflies (Nymphalidae)
  • Range: Ranges over almost all of North America south to Northern South America, where there is moisture (moist climate, rain, etc.), except in high arctic and subtropical regions.
  • Habitat: Mourning Cloaks frequent sunny fields and open areas,gardens, open woodlands and along waterways.
Male Morning Cloak butterfly (Nymphalis antiopa);NPS, Richard Lund,2002
Male Morning Cloak butterfly (Nymphalis antiopa);NPS, Richard Lund,2002


The Mourning Cloaks Life Cycle

  • Egg: Eggs are white, ridged oval eggs laid in clusters on a leaf or twig. The pale egg becomes black before hatching. Up to 250 eggs are laid around a host plant’s twigs.
  • Broods: There is usually one brood per breeding season. But, this can vary depending on longitude and latitude.
  • Host plant(s): Host plants include broadleaf deciduous plants such as willow, elms, hackberry, cottonwood and poplars.
  • Caterpillar/Larva: The larva is velvety black with white speckles and spines, in ridges, along its back.
  • Chrysalis: The chrysalis is up to 7/8 inches long (17.78 centimeters) long. It is tan to dark gray with “two head horns”, and a “beak”. Several thorns-like projections are along the edge. It hangs upside down from a pad.
  • Adult: Adult food consists meadow flowers, animal dung and rotting fruit. The adult emerges as early as late March and feeds on tree sap of sugar maples and oaks since few flowers are blooming. The adult may estivate (hibernate) during summer hot spells.
  • Life span: This dark-colored butterfly may live up to eleven months. and maybe the longest-lived butterfly in North America.
  • Flight pattern: This butterfly flies most commonly in spring, late summer and early autumn.
  • Winter: Hibernates as an adult in loose pieces of bark or in hollow trees. The adult often emerges on warm winter days.


More Posts Butterflies

Observing Butterflies At Home and Far Away 

How Do Mourning Cloak Butterflies Fly in the Cold of Early Spring?

Early Spring Butterflies


  1. As interesting as what I see down here on Little Crum Creek is what I don’t see. This is one of the latter. Hope that changes soon!

  2. I love these butterflies, though I haven’t seen any yet. In the NW we usually get them in summer and fall, though I’m sure they’re around in appropriate habitat at the same time, since it’s so mild.

    I also liked your link about the swallowtails. And your new background is great!

    • I like Mourning Cloaks because they just seemed relaxed. They don’t scurry around but take their time shopping for nectar.

      Thank you, for the compliments.

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