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Mourning Cloak Butterfly

Nymphalis antiopa

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.

Mourning Cloak, Nymphalis antiopaAlternately flying forth and back through adjacent yards and perching on exposed "guard posts", this male is protecting this slippery elm as his breeding territory.

Mourning Cloak, Nymphalis antiopaIf 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.

Mourning Cloak, Nymphalis antiopaOn 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.

Mourning Cloak, Nymphalis antiopaThe 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).

Mourning Cloak, Nymphalis antiopaAs they approach full size, the caterpillars separate into clumps of fewer individuals.  They remain in tight groups until they are ready to pupate.

Mourning Cloak, Nymphalis antiopaKey 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).

Mourning Cloak, Nymphalis antiopaFinally each caterpillar crawls off to find a protected place to form its chrysalis.

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