Believe it or not, there are approximately 20,000 species of butterflies. Given that number, it might seem like it’d be very difficult to try and identify certain ones. But, in North America, there are only about 750 species, making it easier to begin to tell certain species apart. One of the more widespread species is the mourning cloak butterfly. Keep reading to learn how to identify this butterfly and the mourning cloak butterfly larvae.
What does the adult mourning cloak butterfly look like?
The mourning cloak’s scientific name is Nymphalis antiopa—but it’s the species’ common name that gives more clues to its appearance. The adult mourning cloak is a large, dark butterfly with a striking appearance. Fully grown adults can have a wingspan of up to three inches. These wings appear to have a velvety texture. The top of the wings (or the ventral side) of the mourning cloak butterfly are almost fully a dark maroon color, with a band of cream or light yellow around the edges. Right next to the lighter band on each wing is a line of light blue dots. When a mourning cloak butterfly is resting with its wings together, it is a w holly different color. Rather than a dark maroon, the underside of the mourning cloak butterfly’s wings are black. The lighter, yellow-white band around the wings’ perimeter remains on the underside o f the wings. The wings themselves have an irregular, notched edge. Like their wings, the bodies of mourning cloak butterflies are also dark.
According to Penn State, mourning cloak butterfly’s legs are small and usually curled up under its body. In fact, the family that the mourning cloak butterfly belongs to is commonly referred to as the brush-footed butterflies because of the reduced leg state.
What does the mourning cloak butterfly larvae look like?
Like their adult counterparts, the larvae of mourning cloak butterflies are very visually interesting. It is their dis tinct traits that make them fairly easy to tell apart from other larvae that you might come across. Like all butterflies, the form of the mourning cloak butterfly’s larva is a caterpillar. The last in star larvae of the mourning cloak butterfly are only slightly smaller than the adults’ wingspan, coming in at a length of about two inches. Like the adults, mourning cloak butterfly larvae are quite d ark. In fact, the caterpillar appears to be almost completely black (though, upon closer look, you can tell this is not the case). The head of the mourning cloak butterfly larva is dark and covered with very small white hairs and dots. There are also very small white dots across most of the body, and usually patches of a reddish-orange color on each segment. However, the overall appearance is a dark one.
The other distinguishing physical trait of the mourning cloak butterfly larva is the spines across its body . These are referred to as scoli. In fact, each segment of its body has a row of spines on it. These caterpillars usually feed on leaves from deciduous trees, such as the elm, aspen, mulberry, birch, and willow, among others. One interesting fact that you might not expect, given that both the adult butterfly and larva are dark, is that the eggs themselves are actually a pale yellow.
What other butterflies are common in North America and the Unite d States?
While the mourning cloak butterfly is very common across central and western America, it is less common in Texas, the other Gulf states, and Florida. But as mentioned earlier, there are just under 800 different types of butterflies found across North America—which means that there’s more than one popular butterfly. In addition to the mourning cloak butterfly, the following butterflies are other ones that you might happen to come across. It’s worth noting that the popularity of each type of butterfly can vary based on location. (In the list below, here are some butterflies from other families)
Family Hesperidae: Silver Spotted Skipper
Family Lycaenidae: Eastern Tailed Blue
Family Papilionidae: Black Swallowtail
Family Pieridae: Orange