The Mourning Cloak

The Mourning Cloak, a.k.a Camberwell Beauty (Nymphalis antiopa) is one of the largest butterflies in Finland. To spot one of these beauties is always a pleasure.

The Mourning Cloak spends the winter as adult butterfly. They start flying early spring about at the same time as European Peacocks (Inachis io). The second generation hatch in late July.

Based on my sightings, 2014 has been a good year for this species. I was able to spot individuals in early spring quite often. In late summer, the Mourning Cloak was well represented at the butterfly bar in our backyard. I also made sightings in various locations in the greenery.

Despite of my effort I have not yet managed to track down any caterpillars. A definite target for season 2015 is to finally be able to raise this species to learn even more about it.

Garden attraction


The butterfly bar I’ve set up in our garden a couple days ago has become a real attraction. I’ve been positively impressed by the variety of visiting species and by the number of individuals stepping by. Here’s a series of snaps about what’s happening just on our very own back-yard.

A huge drawback of setting up a feeding station are the wasps and bumblebees also being attracted. Unfortunately, on days when the butterfly bar is open our kids have to stay inside for safety purpose.

Multiple individuals of European Peacocks (Inachis io), Mourning Cloaks (Nymphalis antiopa) and Red Admirals (Vanessa atalanta) are continuously feeding outside. Yet missing is the Scarce Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis Xanthomelas) which used to be a frequent visitor during early spring when the bar was set up.

Easter weekend, day 1

Sunshine and warm, decent spring weather. What a promising 4 day weekend. I managed to get out into the greenery for two hours and I headed to a biotope I recently explored. It turned out to be a real hot spot.

Right after I got out of the car I spotted a Common Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) from the distance. Trying to catch it with my camera a Scarce Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis xanthomelas) came to defended its territory from the Brimstone. A couple seconds later, a Moarning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) sailed across. I decided to follow this one for the start. Nevertheless, I knew right away this is going to be a good day!

I didn’t have to leave the one and only field I entered. Within a diameter of perhaps 50-100 meters all the magic happened. The saldo of those two hours was following: 2-3 Scarce Tortoiseshells, 3-4 Common Brimstones, one Moarning Cloak, two Small Tortoiseshells (Aglais urticae), and one European Peacock (Inachis io). Especially the European Peacock was a beauty I was looking forward to meet again.

The above named individuals were, encouraged by the warm spring sun, heavily defending their territory. I saw Multiple times an individual driving off others from its own or other species. This is always a nice play to watch.

After these rather good list of sightings the expectations for day 2 are high. I’m particularly looking forward to spotting two species I’ve not met yet this spring: The Comma (Polygonia c-album) and the Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi).


A Mourning Cloak moment

Focusing on a particular area when searching for butterflies makes sense. Choose the location wisely and, if you’re lucky, all you need to do is wait.

Yesterday, I decided to walk to the horse stable nearby. It’s my favorite spot and sometimes it feels amazing that a place that rich in species can be this close. The area provides shelter and since the surrounding fields are generally left on their own, there’s plenty of food around for adult butterflies and caterpillars.

Standing behind one of the stable buildings, the red building in the gallery below, a large creature was flying about 40 meters away. Due to size and colors, particularly the yellow borders, there was no doubt it was a Mourning Cloak, also known as Camberwell Beauty (Nymphalis antiopa). Fortunately, this skilled flyer landed where it was easy to be located.

Mourning Cloak

The Mourning Cloak was definitely the highlight of that day. Having confirmed its presence in the biotope around the horse stable I know where to start looking for caterpillars, too.

Another species that crossed my path was the Orange Underwing (Archiearis parthenias). This moth is flying at daylight and is one of the first species getting active after winter. It’s terrible in flying and the moth hardly manages to stay in the air. Obviously, see photos below, also a proper landing appears to be a challenge.

Orange Underwing

Today it’s raining outside. After a long dry period rain is very welcome and is exactly what the flora needs right now. Worth being mentioned, a copula of Scarce Tortoiseshells (Nymphalis xanthomelas) has been sighted this weekend by Helmut D., a lepidopterist living nearby. A great sign that caterpillars will be around in a couple weeks from now.

Beauty and the dumpster

European Peacock (Inachis io) feeding on Melancholy Thistle

A photo may not tell the complete truth. Sure, the photos featured in this post don’t lie about the beauty of some of our most common butterflies. However, photos don’t transmit odors.

A small spot of flowers was right next to a leaking dumpster. What our nose may not appreciate can, on the other hand, be highly attractive to someone else. While European Peacocks (Inachis io), Small Tortoiseshells (Aglais urticae)  and a Common Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) where after the flowers, the Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) only showed interest in the fluid which leaked out the dumpster.

A moment that definitely stunk, but which was compensated by beauty.

Did you know…

Not all butterflies show interest in flowers and nectar. Some species, e.g. the Poplar Admiral, feed on feces, cadavers of animals, rotten fruits or even human sweat.

Source: Wikipedia (January 9, 2014)

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