Mourning Cloak Butterfly
Taxonomic Hierarchy Photo
Kingdom: Animalia -- animal
Phylum: Arthropoda -- arthropods
      Subphylum: Hexapoda -- hexapods
Class: hexapoda -- insects


Pterygota -- iwinged insects
           Infraclass: Neoptera -- modern, wing-folding insects
Order: Lepidoptera -- butterflies, moths
Superfamily: Papilionoidea -- butterflies
      Family: Nymphalidae -- admirals, anglewings, brushfoot butterflies, checker-spots, crescent-spots, fritillaries, mourningclocks, purples
           Subfamily: Nymphalinae
Tribe: Nymphalini
Genus: Nymphalis
Species: Nymphalis antiopa
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United States Range Map


California Range Map

Adult Sexes Similar

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Identification:   Life history:
Short projections on both wings, borders irregular. Upperside is purple-black with a wide, bright yellow border on outer margins, and a row of iridescent blue spots at the inner edge of the border.   Overwintered adults mate in the spring, the males perching in sunny openings during the afternoon to wait for receptive females. Eggs are laid in groups circling twigs of the host plant. Caterpillars live in a communal web and feed together on young leaves, then pupate and emerge as adults in June or July. After feeding briefly, the adults estivate until fall, when they re-emerge to feed and store energy for hibernation. Some adults migrate south in the fall.
Flight:   Wing Span:
Usually one flight from June-July.   2 1/4 - 4 inches (5.7 - 10.1 cm).

Caterpillar Hosts:

  Adult Food:
Willows including black willow (Salix nigra), weeping willow (S. babylonica), and silky willow (S. sericea); also American elm (Ulmus americana), cottonwood (Populus deltoides), aspen (P. tremuloides), paper birch (Betula papyrifera), and hackberry (Celtis occidentalis). Older caterpillars wander about and may be found on plants that they do not eat.   Mourning Cloaks prefer tree sap, especially that of oaks. They walk down the trunk to the sap and feed head downward. They will also feed on rotting fruit, and only occasionally on flower nectar.
Habitat:   Season:
Because Mourning Cloaks roam and migrate, they are found almost anywhere that host plants occur including woods, openings, parks, and suburbs; and especially in riparian areas.   One of the earliest butterflies seen in spring, due to the fact that it overwinters as an adult.

First-generation adults emerge in early summer, and estivate until fall, when they re-emerge.

Larvae present from June to September in the east and from May to July in the west

Remarks:   Conservation:
Caution: Do not touch the larva; its spines may cause a stinging sensation if handled. The pupa of the Mourning Cloak is harmless - unlike the pupa of tent caterpillars (Malacosoma species), which may cause an allergic reaction on the skin if handled by allergy sufferers or individuals with very sensitive skin.   Not required.

NatureServe Global Status: G5 - Demonstrably secure globally, though it may be quite rare in parts of its range, especially at the periphery.

Management needs: Occasionally may be necessary to control caterpillar damage to shade trees.

Sources used to Construct this Page:  

Additional Photos

Adult Sexes Similar


All photos 2008 Rick Swartzentrover - Free for non-profit use.

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Global ranks indicate the rarity of a species at a global scale. Species may be fairly common globally but imperiled locally. Global ranks have the following meaning:

  • G1 - Critically Imperiled - At very high risk of extinction due to extreme rarity (often 5 or fewer populations), very steep declines, or other factors.
  • G2 - Imperiled - At high risk of extinction due to very restricted range, very few populations (often 20 or fewer), steep declines, or other factors.
  • G3 - Vulnerable - At moderate risk of extinction due to a restricted range, relatively few populations (often 80 or fewer), recent and widespread declines, or other factors.
  • G4 - Apparently Secure - Uncommon but not rare; some cause for long-term concern due to declines or other factors.
  • G5 - Secure - Common; widespread and abundant.
  • * ? or Q = status unknown or uncertain