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Spring Issue

Mourning Cloaks - Butterflies in Snow!



Mourning Cloak Butterfly

Mourning Cloaks in the Classroom!

By Doug Collicutt

Because they are common, and out and about so early in the year, Mourning Cloaks are good candidates for rearing in the class room. If you find eggs or caterpillars early enough, there's an outside chance that you might be able to have new adults emerging from their chrysalises before the end of June. Even if they don't make it that far, they're still a cool critter to have in the class room. The caterpillars are easy to take care of, and don't require a lot of space.

The best places to look for Mourning Cloak caterpillars is along stream banks where there are lots of willows (Salix sp.), or in areas where there are lots of small American Elm (Ulmus americana)trees. The non-native Siberian (or Chinese) elm (Ulmus pumila) seems to be a favorite food in southern Manitoba. Many people grow these for hedges in urban areas, so they are a good place to look for caterpillars.

If you find a batch of caterpillars, just take a few to rear in captivity. A whole bunch of caterpillars will eat a whole bunch of leaves, and you'll end up spending more time than you want getting them food and cleaning out their cage.

Mourning Cloak on SnowCaterpillar keepers!

A large jar, small aquarium or even a shoe box makes a fine home for the caterpillars. Make sure you put them in something where you can see them easily, that has good ventilation and that has a secure lid, otherwise you'll be looking around the room for escaped caterpillars! Clip some twigs with attached leaves from the same kind of tree or shrub that you found the caterpillars on, and place these in the cage. You can place the twig ends in a container of water, just make sure that it has a very narrow opening, so the caterpillars can't get into the water. They will drown if they fall in. A jar of water covered with plastic or screening that has small holes to stick the twigs into works well. Feed the caterpillars as necessary. As long as they're still eating, keep placing fresh twigs with leaves into the cage whenever they finish what you've given previously.

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When the caterpillars are done eating they will start looking for a place to transform to a chrysalis. They'll leave the twigs and wander around the cage, usually ending up on the underside of the top of the cage. They'll rest there a while, spin an anchor pad, then "go J" and hang upside down. In a day or so they'll shed their skin to become a chrysalis and about 2 weeks later you'll have adult Mourning Cloaks! You can let them go about 4 hours after they've emerged from the chrysalis. They need that long to ensure their wings are dry and hard.

Thanks for learning about rearing Mourning Cloaks! Bye for now!

More on butterflies in

Monarch Butterfly - Manitoba's Marvelous Migrating Monarchs!

Butterfly Gardening - If you grow it, they will come!

The Butterflies of Manitoba - A guide to Manitoba's butterflies for kids.

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