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Mourning Cloak Butterfly (Nymphalis anitopa)

Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Mourning Cloak Butterfly

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Image Credit: Cody C.
Full-sized image of the Mourning-Cloak-Butterfly Thumbnail image of the Mourning-Cloak-Butterfly
Image Credit: Troy D. taken in Maine
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Image Credit: Deanna B. from PA
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Image Credit: Kevin G. from Augusta, ME
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Image Credit: Gary R., taken at Wheeler Park in South Burlington, VT
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Image Credit: Gary R., taken at the Ethan Allen Homestead, Burlington, VT
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The dark, velvety wing of the Mourning Cloak Butterfly helps warm this sun-loving species after a long winter's nap.

Updated: 07/07/2021; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
The Mourning Cloak Butterfly has very short front legs, like all its Brush-Footed kin. It is covered in short hairs akin to the bristles on a hair brush. The dominant black color almost completely covers the wings, but a bright yellow edge gives the wings a lovely contrast. Blue spots above this yellow edge are easiest to see in young butterflies.

Adults are most active in the spring, summer, and sometimes autumn (if a second generation is born in that year). It is one of the few species that hibernates overwinter. This means it is also one of the earliest butterflies seen in the spring. It prefers sunny areas near running water. Streams, creeks, and fountains near open meadows or gardens are good places to find one in flight. It is well-adapted to urban areas as well as the wild so it can also be seen in parks, backyards, and business parks.

The caterpillar of the Mourning Cloak Butterfly feeds on willows. It is almost completely black with several black bristle clusters on its body. Small white and red spots line the body. The caterpillar also feeds on the leaves of elm, cottonwood, birch, hackberry and poplar trees.

General Characteristics
Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon

Taxonomic Hierarchy
Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Lepidoptera
        Family: Nymphalidae
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          Genus: Nymphalis
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            Species: anitopa
Identifying Information
Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Nymphalis anitopa
Other Name(s): Spiny Elm Caterpillar
Category: Butterfly or Moth
Size (Adult; Length): 73mm to 86mm (2.87" to 3.38")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: black, white, brown, yellow, blue, red
Descriptors: flying
Relative Size Comparison
Typical Size Between 73mm (2.9in) and 86mm (3.4in)
Lo: 73mm
Md: 79.5mm
Hi: 86mm
Territorial Map*
U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Territory map graphic of the country of Mexico
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Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Mourning Cloak Butterfly may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Mourning Cloak Butterfly. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.

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