It is early April and even though the weather is still chilly, today is a warm spring day. As I walk into the pine barren woodlands in a park on Long Island in New York, I see nothing but a gray landscape made of leafless oak trees and various heaths. Slate colored juncos (sparrow sized gray birds that winter on Long Island), disturbed by my presence, fly up into a scarlet oak tree.
Around a bend in the trail I see something fluttering and when I get close to it, I see the first butterfly of spring – the mourning cloak butterfly. It landed on a candy wrapper strewn on the ground where the butterfly basked in the sun’s warming rays. Its opened wings revealed a velvety brown top with blue dots and dull yellowish wing edges.
The reason for seeing it so early is that it hibernates for the winter in tree hollows and in the crevices of tree bark. On warm spring days this butterfly emerges from its winter slumber and seeks a mate. The eggs are then laid on the slender branches of willows, poplars and elms. The generation that hatches into caterpillars and undergoes metamorphosis will emerge as adult butterflies and will be next year’s butterflies making it one of the longest living butterfly.
Once warmed, the butterfly lifted off the candy wrapper and flew into the woodlands out of my view. I look forward to seeing other species of butterflies when as the days become warmer.