This mourning cloak butterfly (Nymphalis antiope) is one of a pair that taking part in an elaborate mating flight in the Thielke Arboretum this morning. Mourning cloaks, also called harbingers of spring, are large and beautiful butterflies. Their velvety dark brown wings have with a row of bright blue dots and pale yellow edges. This species occurs throughout the northern hemisphere.
Mourning cloaks are always among the earliest of our native butterflies to appear, and that’s because they have an unusual life cycle: they overwinter as adults, not as eggs or nymphs. They spend the winter in tree cavities or amongst the leaf litter on the forest floor and emerge to feed on tree sap in early spring. Think about that before you blow away all the fallen leaves under your trees and shrubs next winter: whose winter haven are you destroying?
In the Arboretum, skunk cabbage is blooming and the first leaves are emerging from the ground. Bees buzz around the skunk cabbage, drawn by the fetid smell (although the flowers do not seem to smell bad to people). Red maple flowers are beginning to emerge, and spicebush buds are swelling. Birds are extremely active, and garter snakes move swiftly through the leaf litter. Take a walk there and enjoy the spring as it begins to slowly unfold.