mourning cloak butterfly by dfgh4bnmu


									                          WILDLIFE NOTES
Mourning cloak butterfly
Every school kid who has          all probability, a
seen a chrysalis or cocoon,       female. The
               kept in a class-   butterfly that will
                  room through    emerge on the
                  the winter,     school windowsill,
                  knows that      however, could be
                the caterpillar   any of approxi-
             inside is chang-     mately 250 New
ing into a butterfly or                     Mexico
moth. It’s a process                         species.
called metamorphosis,                           One of the
and it’s how butterflies                     most widespread       other butterfly either. The
and moths evolve into adults.     and beautiful species in the     approximate life span for
    But one winter day, weeks     hemisphere, Nymphalis            most butterflies in the United
before the leaves are on the      antiopa con-                      States is from four days to
trees or early flowers are in     tradicts much                     two weeks. The mourning
bloom, months before the          standard but-                     cloak is the longest-lived of
classroom butterfly is ready      terfly behav-                     North American butterflies,
to emerge from its chrysalis,     ior. Easily                       some individuals living as
a bright New Mexico sun and       identified, the                   long as 10 months.
a gentle breeze from the          dorsal surface is a deep            Adults over-winter in
south put the temperature on      plum-purple, bordered by a       hibernation (usually in hol-
the rise. A fifth grader, who     single row of bright blue dots   low trees) and emerge on
is supposed to be working on      and yellow margins (pale in      warmer winter days to feed
long division, looks out the      older butterflies, bright in     on tree sap or, if available,
window and sees a butterfly       newly emerged ones). The         fermented fruit. Like all
flying over the snow.             edges of the wings are           insects, it is cold-blooded,
    Chances                       sharply angular. The mourn-      but warms itself by seeking
are the butter-                   ing cloak’s appearance           sunlight, basking with its
fly is a                          makes confusion with other       dark wings open to absorb
mourning                          species unlikely.                warmth. When the tempera-
cloak, and in                         Its behavior is like no      ture rises, the photosensitive
butterfly moves into the        that mourning cloaks that live    black with several rows of
shade, closing its wings to     through the winter are            spines, a row of red spots
reduce heat absorption.         exclusively female.                        down the back, and
    The seemingly blind             Later in the                                  white specks
prediction—that the butterfly   spring, after leaves                              along the sides.
flying over the snow is a       have turned green                                 Mature larvae
mourning cloak—has foun-        and the chrysalis                                 undergo a quick
dation. What about the claim    in the classroom                                 metamorphosis
that it’s a female? The spe-    has hatched,                                  in the chrysalis (two
cies name, antiopa, was         butterflies of                                 to four weeks) and
given to the butterfly by       all descrip-                                   emerge as adults.
Linnaeus, who named a lot of    tions are visit-                             The second of two
things in the 1700s and who     ing flowers and                           broods emerges in late
was one of the species’ keen-   mud puddles—all but the           summer or early fall.
est observers. Antiopa was      mourning cloak. There is a            It is then, when the butter-
queen of the Amazons, a         spring hiatus when adults are     flies of summer have begun
tribe of women in Greek         rarely seen. Before she dies,     to fade in color and die, when
mythology. Of course            the female has laid her eggs      leaves have begun to turn and
Linnaeus may have picked        on one of several host plants     the new school year is about
the name for some other         such as black willow, aspen,      to begin, that the mourning
reason, but only in the past    cottonwood, or stinging nettle.   cloak is freshest and most
10 years have studies shown         Hatched caterpillars are      beautiful.
                                                                                                  Published 1992

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