While visiting the nursery, I had the delight of capturing this Mourning Cloak butterfly while he was flitting about from flower to flower to feed. I wanted to learn more and this is what I learned about this beauty.
Common Name: The name Mourning Cloak is due to the appearance of the dorsal surface of the wings, said to resemble the traditional cloak worn by those in mourning, which was sometimes draped over the casket of the deceased.
Scientific Name: Nymphalis antiope - The generic name is from the Greek nymphe, which was the name given in both Roman and Greek mythology to any of a number of minor nature goddesses who were young and beautiful, living in rivers, mountains, or trees. The reference here is to the goddess-like sylvan nature of the Mourning Cloak. Antiope was a noted beauty of Greek mythology who was seduced by Zeus in the form of a Satyr. She bore two sons, Amphion and Zethos, the founders of the Greek city of Thebes. The species name antiopecreates a tautonym, as both of the scientific names of the Mourning Cloak refer to its embodiment of mythological beauty.
Flight Period: The Mourningcloak can be seen during every month of the year. The species is multiple brooded and over winters in the adult stage.
The Mourning Cloak is one of the first butterflies to appear as the days start to lengthen at the end of the winter, usually several weeks before spring, depending on the latitude. The reason for this seemingly anomalous behavior is that the Mourning Cloak overwinters as an adult, contrary to most other butterflies and moths that overwinter as eggs, larvae or pupae. The common name “harbinger of spring” is a reflection of its symbolism of the vernal renaissance of the woodland flora and fauna.
Mourning Cloaks live for almost a year and are therefore among the most venerable of the Lepidoptera. This is primarily due to their adaptation to endure the cold as adults. The life cycle begins when the overwintering adults emerge in the spring to mate, the males basking in the sun pending the approach of a female. Following a brief aerial courtship, the female deposits about three hundred eggs in a single mass that surrounds a twig at the end of a branch. Trees that are palatable to the larvae are chosen; primarily willow, elm, cottonwood, white birch and hackberry. The eggs hatch after about ten days and the larvae proceed to voraciously defoliate the branch in order to support their rapid growth. The cohort stays together on the same branch during the growth process; the colony reacts to disturbances by shaking in unison to frighten potential predators.
The last interesting part is that they only have 4 legs, instead of 6 legs.