Saturday, September 15, 2012

Mourning Cloak Butterfly: Maroon and Blue Shimmer

Mourning Cloak Butterfly   © SB
Mourning Cloak Butterflies are common across Canada, but I never noticed them until this week when two Mourning Cloaks came to my attention.

The first, I saw and took pictures of in Kananaskis, Alberta, when I was getting a mountain break from the prairies; the second — which led to my butterfly's ID — a friend recognized and photographed outside her cabin near Regina, Saskatchewan. (Thanks, Donna!)

Mourning Cloak Butterflies are large, with a wingspan up to eight centimetres. And although they may look black at first glance, in good light, their wings shimmer maroon or purple brown, with iridescent blue spots and a ragged butter-yellow border.

This butterfly's common name refers to, yes, a mourning cloak — a garment apparently worn by someone, somewhere (perhaps in Scandinavia?), during a time of bereavement... (The only example I've so far found online was designed to honour the butterfly — thus raising the question, which came first? The butterfly, or the cloak?)

They appear to be native to North America, and unlike Monarchs, which migrate, Mourning Cloaks hibernate  —  or, as the Manitoba site says, "spend the winter in 'cryo-preservation.'"

Where I live, in Regina, Saskatchewan, they are considered common pests. (Who knew?) Mourning Cloaks are the first butterflies to appear in this prairie city in spring, and — in sufficient numbers — the larvae are said to defoliate branches.

(The City of Regina suggests removing the larvae by hand, or leaving them to birds and wasps to devour. Yum... The nearby US state of Montana is perhaps friendlier to Mourning Cloaks, and has designated them its official butterfly.)

Pest or mascot, Mourning Cloaks are unmistakably beautiful. 

What is this? Mourning Cloak Butterfly (Nymphalis antiopa; in the UK, Camberwell Beauty)
Location: Common across Canada, including the prairies; photographed in Kananaskis, Alberta. 
Photo date: September 9, 2012. 


  1. Thanks for this Shelley, a great butterfly lesson. They are beautiful... I'll keep my eyes peeled for them!

  2. Okay, you will not believe this but... not 10 minutes after I read your post my hubby called me outside to see a big butterfly on the driveway. Guess what it was? YES! I was so full of myself knowing what kind it was. :) Thanks again Shelley! :)

  3. Hi Tracy -- what a coincidence seeing one just after reading this! But not so strange, I guess, given what happened to me, too, seeing a picture and realizing that's what I'd photographed! Maybe they are the butterflies of synchronicity. Take care, Shelley


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