Home / Brush-Footed (Nymphalidae) / Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)

Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)


Mourning Cloak Butterfly

The Mourning Cloak is a species of large butterflies that are found in a wide range across North America and Eurasia. They migrate over long distances, and hence, can often be located even in regions beyond their original range.

Scientific Classification

  • Family: Nymphalidae
  • Genus: Nymphalis
  • Common names: surprise butterfly, white petticoat butterfly
  • Scientific Name: Nymphalis antiopa

Description and Identification


Mourning Cloak Butterfly Larvae
Mourning Cloak Caterpillar

The larva is called the ‘spiny elm caterpillar’, and has a spiny black body with a line of eight reddish-orange dots that run down over the back. They possess bright red prolegs, while the entire body is studded with small hairs combined with black spines and white spots. They can attain a maximum length of two inches.


Mourning Cloak Butterfly Chrysalis
Mourning Cloak Butterfly Cocoon

The chrysalis is usually tan or brownish gray, with a pair of rows made of red, pointed spikes that protrude out of the pupa’s lateral side. They also possess a beak-like structure, tubercles, and a pair of horns from the head. On an average, they grow to a length of 0.8 inches (2.0 cm), though the maximum size can be over 1.1 inches (2.8 cm).

Adult Butterfly

Sexual Dimorphism: Not present

Color and Appearance: When the wings are open, both the male and the female show a dark maroon, or sometimes brown, hue with roughly-defined edges that are pale yellow. There is a demarcation in black between the maroon and the yellow parts of the wings that are spotted with bright, iridescent blue spots. When the wings are closed, both sexes display dull gray striations but with similar pale yellow edges like the dorsal side.

Nymphalis antiopa
Mourning Cloak

Average wingspan: 2¼ – 4 inches (5.7 – 10.1 cm)

Flight pattern: Fast with strong flapping


Mourning Cloak Eggs

Amber yellow to pale olive green in color, laid on the upper surface of the host plant, and gradually change to pink, and finally almost black, as they mature.

Quick Facts

Distribution Entire North America, from south of the tundra to central regions of Mexico, and temperate Eurasia; some specimens are also found in the Gulf States and peninsular Florida
Habitat Migrate largely and are found almost everywhere including openings, parks, suburbs, and woods, specifically in the riparian areas
Lifespan of adults 10-11 months
Host plants All types of willow (Salix) trees, and also American elm, hackberry, aspen, and paper birch
Adult diet Mostly prefer tree sap (mostly oak), rotting fruits; rarely feed on flower nectar

Did You Know?

  • The name ‘mourning cloak butterfly’ is only used by the North Americans and never in Great Britain, wherein the Britishers call them as ‘Camberwell beauty’.
  • Unlike most other species, the mature caterpillars are roamers, and hence, can be located even on trees and plants that are not their hosts.
  • Since 2001, it is the state insect of Montana.
  • The species is thought to be the longest living butterfly in its range.
Mourning Cloak Host Plant
Mourning Cloak Butterfly Life Cycle
Mourning Cloak Butterfly Pictures
Mourning Cloak Butterfly Images
Mourning Cloak Butterfly Range
Mourning Cloak Butterfly Photos

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Scientific Classification

  • Family: Nymphalidae
  • Genus: Nymphalis
  • Common names: surprise butterfly, white petticoat butterfly
  • Scientific Name: Nymphalis antiopa