The Mourningcloak (Nymphalis antiopa) is a medium-sized (2-4 inchwingspan) butterfly which is easily identified by the yellow trailing edge to its wings. On the inner edge of the yellow border there are iridescent blue spots making it very striking and distinctive. It belongs to the family Nymphalidae which are known as the ‘brush-footed butterflies’. Their front legs are smaller and often hairy or brush-like, hence the name. It is often the first butterfly seen in spring and because the adults can survive cold winters in ‘cryo-preservation’ hidden in cavities or under bark until the weather warms up.
Males of this species can be territorial. When disturbed, the butterfly will fly away, returning in a minute or two to the same vicinity. The Mourning Cloak lays its eggs in large clusters, and the caterpillars tend to remain in a group, making these early stages easier to find than is the case with other species.
One interesting thing is that the Mourning Cloak is known as the Camberwell Beauty in Europe and is a rare and sought after species in England, where it is a stray from mainland Europe.