Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) (Linnaeus, 1758)

Diagnosis: This large (wingspan: 45 to 79 mm), familiar butterfly, has a unique pattern. The ground colour of the upper surface is a rich maroon or purple brown. There is a bright yellow band along their regular wing edges bordered by a row of bright, iridescent blue spots on the inside. The underside is a dark brown with wavy thin black lines. There is a definite gradient of size from large in the south to small in the north.

Subspecies: None. There is little variation through most of the Mourning Cloak's wide Eurasian and North American range. Specimens from northern Canada and Alaska tend to be smaller than those from farther south and have been called subspecies hyperborea, but size is extremely variable, even in northern Canada, so we do not recognize hyperborea as a subspecies.

Range: The Mourning Cloak occurs throughout most of Canada, north to the tundra at the British Mountains, Yukon, Setidgi Lake, Northwest Territories, and Inukjuak (Port Harrison), Quebec. It flies as far south as northern South America and also ranges across Eurasia.

Specimen collection data

Similar Species: None.

Early Stages: The larva is black with white specks. There is a row of orange-red spots running down the back and several rows of black spines. A shorter middorsal row of spines begins on the third segment of the abdomen. The prolegs are rusty brown. The larvae feed communally on a wide variety of trees, including willow (Salix spp.), elm (Ulmus spp.), cottonwood (Populus spp.), and hackberry (Celtis spp.).

Description of this image follows.
Mourning Cloak
(Nymphalis antiopa),
eggs. T. Arcand

Abundance: This well-known butterfly is widespread, not fluctuating much from year to year, but is rarely seen in large numbers.

Flight Season: The Mourning Cloak is double-brooded, with a summer brood flying in June and July and a second brood emerging in August, flying until late October, then overwintering and flying againin April (mid-March in southern Ontario) and May. The broods overlap and it has been recorded in the Ottawa area every week from late March to early November. It can sometimes be seen on sunny winter days in the south, flying over the snow.

Habits: This species, because of its wide range of foodplant preferences, can show up in just about any habitat, including city parks and gardens. It is often seen patrolling damp areas along woodland roads. It flies with a characteristic flap-glide motion.

© 2002. This material is reproduced with permission from The Butterflies of Canada by Ross A. Layberry, Peter W. Hall, and J. Donald Lafontaine. University of Toronto Press; 1998. Specimen photos courtesy of John T. Fowler.