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Thursday, April 20, 2006

A good day to see a butterfly

I was talking to Aaron on the phone about his new house, the president of China, and the best route to Santa Cruz in a Lotus when a very particular kind of shadow caught my eye as it slid past the office door. I said, "gotta go", because only a butterfly makes a shadow that flutters like that. And there have been precious few butterflies around here so far this spring.

This was a mourning cloak, Nymphalis antiopa, that had alit on a perch high in the melaleuca linarifolia tree while waiting for me to get the camera. It's a 2006 hatchling, offspring of the adults that were flying (briefly!) back in January. The wings look really fresh; if it were an overwintered adult, they would be battered. Mourning cloaks live for almost a year. This creature has already weathered some unseasonably cold and wet weather as a caterpillar, so here's hoping for more sunny butterfly days just like today to make its long/short life a bit easier.

The adult butterflies preferred food is tree sap and rotting fruit, but they do also take nectar. This one looks like it is tasting the melaleuca flowers.


Cindy said...

Great shots. I have been seeing these guys around too, maybe they'll be a little more plentiful than last year.

I'm curious, though: If there have already been caterpillars early this year, what is their host plant? I thought they ate the leaves of Chinese Elm, which have only just regrown their new leaves this spring. It would be great to know I could find the caterpillars on other plants/trees.

Isabella said...

I love your photos! What kind of camera do you use? You sure take some fantastic pictures!

vanessa cardui said...

I haven't seen the caterpillars but I assume they are feedng on the chinese elm. Remember that hot spell we had around here back in January? About that time I saw one mourning cloak butterfly. My chinese elm still had last year's leaves and I suppose could have supported caterpillars. Within a couple weeks, the weather had turned cold again, but the new crop of leaves was already coming out. I guess my elm is a bit earlier than most. I understand mourning cloak 'pillars eat leaves of willow, aspen, birch and a few other trees.