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Catch that Beautiful Butterfly!

Now that the spring weather seems to be here to stay (don't want to jinx anything!), more warm-weather creatures have begun to emerge!

Last weekend while hiking in Mohonk Preserve, I noticed a surfeit of one creature in particular; the Mourning Cloak Butterfly! These modestly colored insects were flitting every which way along the trail, including right into my head! Resulting in an uncalled for startled scream, of course.

Adult Mourning Cloaks actually hibernate during the winter, and re-emerge come springtime to begin mating i.e. bow-chicka-wow-wow. During spring afternoons, males perch in sunny openings to wait for receptive females to float by. The perched butterfly pictured above may be male or female as this species does not display any sexual dimorphism.

According to The Butterflies and Moths of North America, after mating, these buggers lay eggs in groups circling twigs of various trees including willows, elms, and aspens. The resulting 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 (lie dormant) until fall, when they re-emerge to feed and store energy for hibernation during the winter. Some adults even migrate south in the fall (I know I would!).

Fun fact: Adults live 10-11 months and may be our longest lived butterfly! You go, Mourning Cloak-o!

Quite the critter! Now that you are a seasoned Lepidopterist, get out there and start chasing these flittering fliers - One, two, three, O'Leary!

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