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Mourning Cloak Butterflies

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With their red-brown bodies, yellow wing edges, and blue spots, we’re so excited to see Mourning Cloak butterflies in High Park again!

Mourning Cloaks are one of the first butterflies that we see in the spring because they do not fly south when it’s cold but instead, they overwinter as adult butterflies. They will overwinter in sheltered places like cracks in rocks, tree cavities, under loose tree bark, or unheated buildings – pretty much anywhere they can fit into that will protect them from cold winds and hungry predators.

Because these butterflies emerge so early in spring, before all the snow has melted and with many flowers and nectar sources unavailable, Mourning Cloaks have some really neat adaptations to help them overcome the seasonal challenges.

When they first emerge, they need to warm up before they can move quickly or even fly. To generate the heat needed, these butterflies vibrate their wing muscles so they can safely leave their winter roost, avoid predators, find food, and mate.

With the absence of many flowers and nectar sources, Mourning cloaks also have to look to other food sources until more become available. In early spring, these butterflies can be found sipping running sap from tree trunks on sunny afternoons. Later in the season, they will visit some flowers for nectar but are mostly seen enjoying their second favourite food, rotting fruit.

On your next spring visit to High Park, keep an eye out for Mourning Cloak butterflies, flitting around!