Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Mourning Cloak Butterfly (1st butterfly of 2014)

"There's a butterfly in the backyard!"  That was me screaming with excitement earlier today when I saw a Mourning Cloak glide through the backyard!  I'm sure my husband rolled his eyes when he heard me.  It was almost 50 degrees and sunny.  I grabbed a few quick photos, and poof!   It was gone...like a cruel April Fools trick!

I had planned to walk the wooded trail from Fessendon Field down to the Sherborn Power Line Trail today.  There were several Mourning Cloaks there early last spring, and I figured it might be a good place to see one.  The trail was more like a small, muddy stream, with lots of erosion, and thick sucking mud, making it difficult to navigate.  The actual stream at the bottom of the hill that you must cross to reach the power line trail was a raging rivulet.  I didn't try to cross.  I stepped carefully enough that I didn't sink so low in the mud to have it cover the tops of my shoes.  Trust me.  It could have!

Here is today's Mourning Cloak.  It's a real beauty.  A welcome sign of spring.  A joyous start to a wonderful season of beautiful and fascinating butterflies!  You can see it is not a "fresh" newly emerged butterfly,  It is slightly worn, likely one that spent the winter tucked into some tree in my yard.

Although some of our Mourning Cloaks migrate, most spend the winter in Massachusetts, hibernating in a hollow tree, under the eave of a roof, or in a shed wall (example locations).  They can come out of hibernation on a warm day and go back in again, as needed.  In this case, I hope it is able to stay out for the season!  A few years ago, we had a tree growing out of a crack in a boulder and the root system was slightly raised, creating an opening between the tree trunk and the boulder.  Two Mourning Cloaks used that opening to hibernate.

I love the band of blue spots along its outer edge.  In contrast, the outer coloring provides excellent camouflage.  If one lands on a tree trunk, it blends in so well you may not be able to spot it, even if you watched where it landed!

If you are wondering how a butterfly can survive in early spring before flowers have even budded, it is because it is a sap-feeding butterfly.  That same tree growing out of the boulder usually runs with sticky sap in early spring, so I know it provides at least one food source in the area.  It makes sense that they areout at the same time maple sugaring is going on (but it does have to be a warm day...typically 50 degrees or higher)!

These butterflies seem to enjoy basking in the sun, so watch for them on tree trunks, sun-warmed boulders, shed walls, wooden swing sets, or even on the grass.


  1. Congratulations on finding your first butterfly of the year. We had a good spell at the beginning of March when three different species were seen here. Unfortunately the weather has been cold and grey for the last couple of week and it is forecast to stay the same for at least the next ten days! Our butterfly surveys are meant to start in April, but I think they will be a bit delayed this year!