Osmocote Advertisement

Butterflies in February?


Butterflies in February?

By Nina A. Koziol

On a sunny winter day a few years ago, I strolled into our Palos-area garden looking for signs of snowdrops. The snow was melting, leaving behind large patches of wet soil around the tree trunks. The air was calm and the day was somewhat downright mild for February — almost 50 degrees. Out of the corner of my eye, something darted just above the ground — a mourning cloak! I had read that mourning cloak and question mark butterflies occasionally ventured out from their winter hideaways — they overwinter here and can find shelter under loose bark or in a woodpile or perhaps a hollow tree trunk.

The mourning cloak is a “brushfooted” butterfly—so called because the pair of front legs is covered with short bristles. Other common brushfoots include the painted lady, red admiral, question mark and fritillary. The mourning cloak’s wing spread is about 3 to 3 1/2 inches across, and its dark purple-black wings with a yellow border and blue spots make it truly unique among our local garden butterflies. On a mild winter day you may find a mourning cloak basking in the sun warming its wing “muscles.”

Unlike most other short-lived butterflies, the mourning cloak can survive almost a year. In spring, the females lay clusters of eggs on branches of willows, aspen, Eastern cottonwood, American elm, hackberry and birch. The caterpillars are a communal bunch — eating together as a group. You may discover a mourning cloak butterfly feeding on rotting fruit under an apple or pear tree. They’ll also sip from dripping tree sap, from fruit tree blossoms and — ick —from animal droppings that provide them with minerals and salt. During hot summer weather, mourning cloaks rest in a reproductively dormant state. But as the weather cools, they begin feeding again. And the cycle starts over when they hide away during the winter.

So when you find yourself in a garden on a warm sunny day in February, keep your eyes open. You may spot one of these winged wonders.

categories

popular

Article Thumbnail
Columns
Mike’s Holiday Hort Sing-Along

If it weren’t for the holiday season, we probably would have legislated the month of December out of existence long ago.


Article Thumbnail
Columns
Prune This!

My computer is trying to tell me something. About gardening, no less. That can’t be good. It’s not like pruners are some ...


Article Thumbnail
Columns
Waiting for Gardot

“Hey, Gerry.” “ Morning, Al.” “ Where’s Carey?” “ They moved him to the front this morning.” “ No kidding. Think we’re next?


Article Thumbnail
Features
From the Inside Out

Good design and careful planning filled this modest backyard space with a garden that meets the needs of adults and children.


Article Thumbnail
Blog
From Garden to Table

No one wants to think about gardening when the temperatures hover in the single digits and the wind is howling, but before ...


questions

What are some trends in gardening you see becoming more prevalent in the next few years?

What is the correct distance from my house to plant a tree? What is the correct distance from the lot line to plant a tree?

Do the ants on my peony flowers help buds to open, or is this an old wives’ tale? What are the extremely tiny, microscopic yellow wormy looking bugs crawling on my pink peony flowers? My peonies are beautiful, but I don’t want all these bugs.

ChicagolandGardening Advertisement