This butterfly is named for its somber coloration. Mourning Cloaks have wings that are dark brown with pale, cream-colored edges, which often look ragged. Underneath, the Mourning Cloak’s wings are blackish-brown. It is camouflaged when it rests on a tree trunk with its wings folded.
This large insect has a 3-1/2 wingspan and breaks several “rules” about butterflies. It is often found in flowerless woodlands and can sometimes be seen flying around in the Winter. I have run into a few of these creatures in the past few weeks; they have a well-deserved reputation of being difficult to approach and photograph.
Adult Mourning Cloaks drink from some nectar-producing plants, rotting fruit, tree sap and mud puddles. On cold but sunny days, they rest on tree trunks and turn their dark wings toward the sun to absorb heat. When approached, they make a loud click before flying away from a resting spot.
Mourning Cloaks are one of the few butterflies that overwinter. Instead of dying or flying south, they stay here year-round. They find a tree cavity or crawl underneath loose bark. By hibernating, Mourning Cloaks get a head start over other butterflies in the Spring.
The Mourning Cloak is a widespread species with a worldwide distribution in the northern hemisphere from the subtropics to the Arctic Circle. This is one of my favorite butterflies because of it’s unconvential, yet successful lifestyle and seeing one on a sunny Winter day in the woods makes for a great hike.