Treasures of Oz

Celebrating the Natural Gems of Ozaukee County



Butterflies that Overwinter

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mourning_cloakk_lgHowdy, BugFans,

It’s cold, and the bug lady keeps muttering under her breath about diapause/migration/curling-up-in-a-cozy pupal-case-and-letting-her-histoblasts-rearrange-things.

eastern_comma_lgMost adult insects die by late fall, leaving the next generation behind in the form of eggs or pupa.  Most insects are in their adult stage for only a few months or less, and many have a predictable flight period - a portion of the spring/summer/fall when we expect to see them.

Mourning Cloaks and the Angle-wings, like the Question mark and the Commas, are butterflies that overwinter in their adult stages; these are the first butterflies we see when things start to warm up in spring, and their caterpillars get first crack at the spring veggies.  They overwinter in cracks and crevices in rocks and trees. There, they certainly freeze, becoming butterfly-sicles, but their blood contains glycogens - antifreeze - that allow their tissues to withstand the winter’s cycles of freezing and thawing.

question_mark_lgquestion_mark_wing_lgThey live longer than most butterflies - 10 months or more.  Hibernators typically get their signals from day length, not temperature. It's better to get all tucked in and then miss a few warm fall days than it is to get caught by an early killing frost. “Question mark, under” demonstrates how well camouflaged Question marks are when they sit with their wings closed and why the Question mark got its name.  The commas and question marks have two broods each summer, and the markings of the summer and winter mourning_cloak_caterpillar_lgforms are different.

The prickly, black caterpillars of the Mourning Cloak eat willow, cottonwood, elm, birch and hackberry. Question Mark larvae eat hackberry, hops, nettle and elm and commas chow down on nettles, elm and currants. They are all members of the Brush-footed butterfly group.

The BugLady