Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Mourning Cloak, Question Marks and a Tree

In mid-May, were driving down a rural road in Wilkes County, Georgia, when we witnessed a strange site. A ‘Question Mark’ (Polygonia interrogationis) was chasing a Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa). We’re calling it a Question Mark but it could have been a Comma (Polygonia comma). We never did see the underside of the wings clearly enough to identify it but… At that time, we didn’t know that the butterfly being chased was Mourning Cloak either; we identified it a little later too.

Anyway, a Question Mark was chasing a Mourning Cloak through the woods at the edge of the road. It was clear that the Question Mark was chasing the Mourning Cloak; this was not a random encounter between the two butterflies. The chase was so obvious that we stopped to watch. The Question Mark would chase the Mourning Cloak and then return to a specific tree. The Mourning Cloak would fly around and return to the same tree. This happened several times. So we had to get out of the car and investigate.

The Mourning Cloak had alighted on the tree trunk. This was the best view we got of the top of the wings but its identity was unmistakable.

It was then that we discovered that two Question Marks were involved in this encounter. They flew off, leaving the tree to the…

Mourning Cloak which relaxed, wings folded. The ‘texture’ on the underside of the wing was quite remarkable.

We found a place where we could climb the embankment and walked back to the tree. The mystery was solved. The tree was leaking sap that had attracted the butterflies. It seemed a little unusual to see sap leaking in mid-May but the butterflies were making the most of it.

Mourning Cloaks are easy to identify; they are unique unlike the Polygonia sp. (Question Marks and Commas). Mourning Cloaks may be found between mid-April and mid-October throughout most of Georgia except for the very south of the state. Mourning Cloaks occur in woodlands which probably explains why, although they may be common in some areas, they are not seen frequently. I’ve only seen one previously in an opening in the woods at Fort Yargo State Park in Barrow County, Georgia.

Click on an image to view a larger image

Identification resources:

- Westcentral Georgia Butterflies by Michael Beohm: Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)

- BugGuide: Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)
[dorsal] [ventral]

Related posts:

- The Sap Tree

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