U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Sacramento Fish & Wildlife OfficeServing the people, conserving the fish, wildlife, and plants of California

A Unit Of The Pacific Southwest Region

Photog Chronicles

May 9, 2019

photo of mourning cloak butterfly

Tattered wings on a mourning cloak butterfly can be a sign that it already experienced last year's flight season. Photo credit: John Cleckler.

Everyone has heard the saying “a picture’s worth a thousand words,” but what a picture does not provide is the backstory—or details about the who, what, where, when and why. Photog Chronicles allows Sacramento Fish and Wildlife biologists to tell the story behind a wildlife photograph they captured in their own words.

John Cleckler is a fish and wildlife biologist whose photos are regularly featured on SFWO’s Twitter feed and website. Here is John’s Photog Chronicle about a photograph he took of a mourning cloak butterfly during a recent outing with his children.

After two back-to-back days of sunny weather, I took my kids for a walk in the Koobs Nature Area in Carmichael, California. Flowers were going to bloom soon, but at that point green was the prominent color. So, I was slightly surprised to see a butterfly sunning itself. On closer inspection, I realized it was a mourning cloak; which is one of the likely suspects for this time of year. It’s one of the few butterfly species that overwinters (hibernates) as an adult. It may have been waiting it out, perhaps under raised bark, for the first warm days of spring to emerge. It’s okay that there's little flower nectar available because they feed on tree sap, animal droppings, and decaying matter. We went out the following weekend and saw more mourning cloaks. A butterfly landed on one of their friends, they were very excited to see it and ran back to tell me about it. This kicks off what is likely to be a good butterfly season.

- John Cleckler

Last updated: May 9, 2019