Because of their uneven wing shape and tendency to fly around with snow still on the ground, many sightings of Mourning Cloaks are accompanied by concerns for their health, but both of those things are perfectly normal for this unique butterfly. The jagged wing edge is not torn, but the natural shape of the wing, and helps the Mourning Cloak camouflage as a dead leaf when its wings are closed. And this butterfly is one of the very first to be in flight in the spring and may even occasionally be seen on exceedingly warm winter days. They don’t have to wait for flowering plants as a food source like many butterflies since they feed primarily on tree sap and rotting fruits.
Mourning Cloaks breed and lay eggs in spring, after which the caterpillars spend the next few months feeding in a communal web on a variety of host plants, most commonly willow, aspen, and elm. Unlike many butterflies that spend most of the year including the cold winter protected in a chrysalis, Mourning Cloaks only spend a few weeks in this stage of their life cycle. Adults hatch out in the summer but quickly go dormant until the fall, when they are very active. During this time, they store up on food to prepare for overwintering under tree bark or in another protected location. Mourning Cloaks can be found in a variety of habitats in Michigan as long as they have at least one food source nearby for the caterpillars to feed on, so keep an eye out for this handsome butterfly in your yard or local Metroparks as one of the first signs of the approaching spring!