Proven Winners 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
Departments
From the Editor - MarApr 2017

I once knew a woman who vacuumed her rock garden. Seems a revered expert from the East Coast was coming on an inspection tour …


Article Thumbnail
Departments
From the Editor - NovDec 2016

The most memorable Christmas of my Chicago life was the year the temperature plummeted to 25 below zero and the pipes froze …


Article Thumbnail
Columns
The Secret Life of Bulbs

The monocotyledonous geophytes are coming! The monocotyledonous geophytes are coming! I knew that would get your attention.


Article Thumbnail
Columns
Beyond Violet

African violets are pushing the envelope when it comes to colors and flower forms. Ruffles, anyone?


Article Thumbnail
Columns
Beyond Extreme Makeovers

Well, here we are again. Funny how Jan. 1st rolls around about this time every year. It's almost a pattern.


questions

I have twelve beautiful blooming violet plants on my office desk, placed 12 inches from a light source that’s kept burning day and night. I water them from the bottom and let the water remain in the saucer.

No matter what I spray, I continue to have gnats and other insects in my soil. I also occasionally start to get yellow spots on the tips of the leaves and then the spots start going down the leaves. What’s going on here?

Is there an overall rule about when to pinch back my leggy plants?

I have lost four 12-15 foot tall white pine trees over the last year. All had the same symptoms, browning needles at the bottom that continued up to the top. Can you tell me what pest is killing the white pines? I am also losing an Austrian pine now. It is experiencing the same symptoms.

ChicagolandGardening Advertisement