Mourning cloak butterflies may
live for a year or so, longer than most butterflies. The male
will patrol a territory, chasing large insects and small birds as well
as other butterflies. The resident male mourning cloak comes
to investigate any activity or new objects in my back yard.
flying forth and back
through adjacent yards and perching on exposed "guard posts", this male
is protecting this slippery
elm as his breeding territory.
If I stand in the open and hold a finger up, the patrolling male will frequently land on my finger, or on my head. Here he is being introduced to a delighted grand daughter.
On the twig
across the lower
left of this picture are the empty egg cases from which this wiggly
mass of mourning cloak caterpillars emerged a day or two before.
They are communal feeders.
caterpillars build a communal
web. During their smaller stages they stay inside this protective
tent. Their droppings stuck to the web make it more visible (I
should have used a different color background).
approach full size, the
caterpillars separate into clumps of fewer individuals. They
remain in tight groups until they are ready to pupate.
Key points for identifying the mourning cloak caterpillars are shown here. Note the row of red dots along the back, and the red prolegs (most of the "legs" on a caterpillar).
Finally each caterpillar crawls off to find a protected place to form its chrysalis.