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What is a Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)

Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)

Nymphalis antiopa, known as the Mourning Cloak or Camberwell Beauty. The larvae have black bodies and a line of red dots running down the back. The body is covered with black spines, white dots converging on the ends of all the spines.

Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)

Mourning Cloak Overview

The Mourning Cloak is a large butterfly that lives in both Eurasia and North America and is also known as the Grand Surprise or White Petticoat Butterfly. While they may have an elegant appearance as adult butterflies, these little guys start out as spiny caterpillars that are known as the Spiny Elm Caterpillar. 

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  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Class: Insecta
  • Order: Lepidoptera
  • Family: Nymphalidae
  • Genus: Nymphalis
  • Species: N. antiopa

Size and Body Description

As stated before, the Mourning Cloak Butterfly is a relatively large butterfly with a dark red or maroon color on the topside of the wing. The topside can occasionally be brown in color but no matter which color the butterfly is, it will have irregular-shaped edges with a yellow or grayish-yellow border separating the edge of the wing from the inside color. On this border, you will find iridescent blue spots that stretch from the back of the wing to the front.

The coloration on the underside of the wing is usually black, brown, or dark brown in color with the same yellow border that is found on the top side of the wing. The color pattern on the underside of the wing gives it an almost charred or burnt texture which helps it blend into its surroundings.


Mourning Cloak Butterflies will grow to have a wingspan of around 2.5 to 4 inches in length. As caterpillars, they will typically be around 2 inches in length.


Mourning Cloak Butterflies will feed on tree sap, the occasional nectar from a flower, and rotting fruit with its preferred food being tree sap. While in larvae form, the caterpillars will eat the leaves of the plant they were laid on which could be a willow, American elm, or hackberry to name a few. 


Mating season for the Mourning Cloak starts in spring with caterpillars hatching from their eggs shortly after. Around June or July, the caterpillars will have finished their transformation and have turned into fully grown butterflies.

What is a Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)

Mourning cloak butterfly resting in the sun on stones


Mourning Cloak Butterflies live in both Eurasia and the North American continent with them predominately living in the United States and Canada as far as North America is concerned. For the United States, these butterflies live in every state except maybe Hawaii but even then, I wouldn’t be shocked if they made it over there.

In Canada, Mourning Cloaks Butterflies are found mostly in the southern region of every providence that shares a border with the United States. These butterflies tend to stay away from the extremely cold or polar regions of Canada like Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, and most of the Yukon.

How Long do Mourning Cloak Butterflies Live

Mourning Cloak Butterflies have one of the longest lifespans of any butterfly living to be around 11 to 12 months old.


In the United States, the Mourning Cloak Butterfly is not a protected species as they live just about everywhere with stable populations.

References Used

Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)