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Species Page - Nymphalis antiopa
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scientific name    Nymphalis antiopa    

common name     Mourning Cloak

Found in virtually all habitats throuhgout the province, particularly near moist and riparian woods.

One brood per year, appearing in early spring (April to May) and again in August to October.

The deep brown upperside rimmed with blue spots and a powder-yellow margin is unmistakable. Spring specimens are flight-worn and are faded to maroon-brown with yellowish-white margins. The Mourning Cloak is remarakbly consistent in appearance across its vast North American range, and there are no recognized subspecies (Layberry et al. 1998, Guppy & Shepard 2001).

life history
The eggs are laid in clusters on the hostplant, and the caterpillars initially live in colonies (Scott 1986). The larvae possess branched spines, and are velvety black with small white spots and a line of dorsal red spots (Guppy & Shepard 2001). The adults are one of the longest-lived species in Alberta, and can live to be nearly a year old since they hatch in July or August, overwinter, and are occasionally found into June of the following year. Because they sometimes appear on warm winter days, Mourning Cloaks can be seen in almost any month of the year.

Not of concern.

diet info
The larvae feed on various trees including elm (Ulmus spp.) and poplars (Populus spp.), and particularly willows (Salix spp.) (Layberry et al. 1998). Adults prefer tree sap and mammal scat to flower nectar.

This species has a wide distribution throughout the northern hemisphere, occuring from Great Britain across Eurasia and from Alaska south to central Mexico (Opler 1999).

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Joe Belicek (2014-04-15)
Nymphalis antiopa ssp. hyperborea Seitz, 1913
(a) For taxonomic notes: - see Kondla in Pohl et al (2010), Annotated list of the Lepidoptera of Alberta, p. 369, No. 1192. ZooKeys 38.
In 2009 Layberry published on the ontarioinsects web pages this note: - In The Butterflies of Canada (Layberry et al. 1998) we stated confidently that the Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) had no subspecies. We mentioned one old name, hyperborea (Seitz, 1913) referring to specimens from northern Canada and Alaska. We had compared far northern specimens with southern Canadian ones, and found no reliable differences in size or colour, so we did not recognize hyperborea as a valid subspecies. But we didn?t compare either with European specimens. If we had done so, we would have seen what Seitz saw almost a century ago, that the colours are very different. Seitz described the colour of the upper surface of antiopa, meaning European antiopa, as blackish brown, and that of hyperborea as a very bright red-brown, which is not a bad description of the colour of the Mourning Cloak that we all know. The difference is unmistakeable; there can be no doubt that most, if not all Canadian Mourning Cloaks should be referred to a Nymphalis antiopa hyperborea. I say ?most? because there is one other complication, in the form of another old name, lintnerii (Fitch,1857), described from New York, .... The specimens from the eastern US are a lot darker than ours, almost as dark as European antiopa, which would make lintnerii also a valid subspecies, distinct from our hyperborea.
(b) Rearing notes: On several occasions I reared many dozens of specimens of hyperborea from eggs laid by captive females on planted Elm (Ulmus americana, Ulmaceae); or from the larval nests, found on native willows (Salix spp.). The larvae collected on Salix were transferred onto Elm, which is readily accepted as a food. In Alberta, at least in urban areas, the planted trees of American Elm are an alternative host. Initially the yellow-amber eggs of hyperborea change colour as the the eggs develop, turning lilac-pink. The dozens of eggs were laid in rings encircling the finger sized stem of elm sapling planted in front of my house in west Edmonton. Some eggs were also laid on the upper surface of leaves, in patches. Upon hatching, the gregarious colony of larvae climbs to the end of the terminal shoot of the host plant, where they spin a web nest. The larvae live communally, at first in the web, later as a large colony on the branches of the food plant. The colony breaks-up when the larvae leave the host plant to find suitable pupation sites. The pupa of Euvanessa does not possess the silvery-gold, metallic dorsal saddle marks, typical of Nymphalis or Roddia pupa. The eclosing butterflies void red-blood coloured meconium.

(c) Overwintering. This species overwinters in Alberta as elsewhere, as adults butterflies. Ken Philip carried out experiments with hibernating hyperborea. He found that in Alaska these butterflies overwinter without freezing, on the ground, under the snow cover. The butterflies found were hidden in rock piles, animal burrows. For his experiments, Ken made several small hibernation cages. Using pieces of 2x4 lumber, with a large, screened pre-drilled hole, the butterflies were left in these cages on the ground, where they were covered by snowfall. Measurements with thermocouples confirmed remarkable cold hardiness, the butterfly bodies did not freeze until the temperature reached ? 22? F (-30? C). Philip, (pers. comm).

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Specimen Info
There are 81 specimens of this species in the online database
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Specimen List (81)


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