This mourning cloak is in the adult butterfly stage of its life. By Mzalfres via Wikimedia Commons. See link below.
Mourning cloak butterflies live all across North America, from the tundra in northern Canada to central Mexico. They have a 3 to 4 inch wingspan and their wings are dark brown with a yellow stripe along the edges. Mourning cloaks are considered one of the first signs of spring in many areas on the North American continent.
All butterflies start their lives as caterpillars. The caterpillars hatch from eggs and eat leaves. The caterpillars grow and grow until they are big enough to make a chrysalis. Inside the chrysalis, a caterpillar transforms into an adult butterfly.
Butterflies have long tongues that coil up inside of their mouths and extend when they are eating. A butterfly’s tongue is hollow and the butterfly uses it like a straw to suck up liquid from its food source. Mourning cloaks eat sap from trees, juice from wild berries, and even water from mud puddles. The water is rich in minerals that the butterflies need. Mourning cloaks sometimes get these important minerals from the carcasses of dead animals that are decaying on the forest floor.
In cold parts of North America, adult mourning cloak butterflies have two choices: they can spend the winter hibernating on the forest floor or they can migrate, or travel, south to warmer areas for the winter. Butterflies that stay put and hibernate wake up when temperatures start to warm up in the spring. When people see a mourning cloak butterfly out in the forest, they know that spring is on the way!
This mourning cloak is in the juvenile caterpillar stage of its life. By Thelmadatter via Wikimedia Commons. See link below.
Look carefully at the ragged spot on the upper right wing of this butterfly. It may have been attacked by a bird, or it may have survived a winter by hibernating on the forest floor. By Stemonitis via Wikimedia Commons. See link below.
For references, please see the above links and the following books:
Royston, Angela. Living Nature: Insects. Chrysalis Education, 2003. Pp. 23-25.
Weber, Larry. Butterflies of the North Woods. Duluth, MN: Kollath & Stensaas Publishing, 2006. Pp. 142-143.