INGOMAR GARDEN CLUB . . . Green Thumbs Grow thru Trowel & Error

June Report 2019

05/31/2019 22:57

The Mourning Cloak Butterfly
By Jill Staake
Some folks still have snow on the ground, but others are starting too see signs of spring. A friend of mine in
Washington DC commented on Facebook that his daffodils are blooming, and recent reports say ruby-throated
hummingbirds and monarch butterflies are on the way north once again. In many parts of the country, one of the
first signs of spring is the return to the sky of Mourning Cloak butterflies.
Mourning Cloaks (Nymphalis antiopa) can be seen in most parts of the country, with the exception of southern
Florida. They are a medium-sized butterfly, with a wingspan of about 3 inches. They are easy to identify, with
velvety-brown wings bordered in white or yellow, edged with bright blue spots. Mourning Cloaks are one of the
first butterflies to be spotted each spring because most do not fly south when the weather gets cold – instead, they
overwinter as adult butterflies tucked away in sheltered places like cracks in rocks or holes in trees. They are able
to shut down their bodies all winter long,
experiencing a type of hibernation that is
known in insects as torpor. When the weather
begins to warm up, these butterflies awake and
head out to find water and food.
Because these butterflies often emerge in early
spring before much in the way of flowers and
nectar are available, Mourning Cloaks have
evolved to take advantage of other food
sources. In early spring, these butterflies are
found sipping running sap from tree trunks on
sunny afternoons, head down and walking
downward. Later in the season, they will very occasionally visit flowers for nectar, but are often seen enjoying
rotting fruit, their second favorite food.
How can you attract a butterfly to your garden if it rarely visits nectar flowers? One good place to start is by
planting their host plants instead. Mourning Cloak butterflies lay eggs on trees in the willow family, and also on
elm and birch. Look for their caterpillars in late spring and early summer. You can also attract the butterflies with
very ripe or rotting fruit set in a dish in your garden, like bananas and strawberries. (Set the fruit in a shallow dish
of water to deter ants.)
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