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Cool Insects
The Mourning Cloak Butterfly

This post is the first in a series featuring ‘cool’ and ‘cruel’ (pest) insects in Canada. If there’s an insect that you’d like to write a post about, please get in touch with us!


by John Acorn

The beautifully camouflaged under surface of a Mourning Cloak butterfly.

How long do butterflies live? For most, the answer is “not very long,” after what may have been many months as an egg, caterpillar, and chrysalis. For the Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa), however, life as a butterfly can stretch over an entire year. Mourning Cloaks spend the winter in hibernation, under bark for example, and they are often the “first butterfly of spring,” along with their close relatives, the tortoiseshells and commas. Since Mourning Cloaks are widespread in North America and Eurasia, they are probably the most oft-encountered spring butterflies in the north temperate world. After feeding on various trees (elm, willow, and poplar are all acceptable fare) as caterpillars, Mourning Cloak butterflies emerge from their pupae in mid to late summer. They sometimes live as long as twelve months as adults. In springtime, they typically emerge from hibernation before the first flowers are in bloom, and they feed on everything from sap flows to dung to mud, in order to obtain the nutrients necessary for such a long life.

On an older Mourning Cloak, the bright yellow wing edges have faded to pale white, and the maroon of the wings becomes a more generic shade of brown. The wing pattern of Mourning Cloaks has been the inspiration for speculation among entomologists. Most agree that the underside of the wings is camouflaged, looking like a dried leaf, or tree bark. But the upper side has been interpreted as a depiction of a yellow, black, and blue-spotted caterpillar, walking along a brown-maroon surface. Birds might peck at the fake caterpillar, thereby missing the delicate body of the butterfly, and indeed we do find Mourning Cloaks with bird bill marks along the edges of their wings (“cloak and dagger,” one might ask?). On the other hand, Mourning Cloaks are agile fliers, and at least one other insect, the Carolina Locust grasshopper (Dissosteira carolina), appears to mimic the Mourning Cloak, perhaps to convince birds that it is difficult to capture in flight.

A freshly emerged Mourning Cloak with bird bill marks along its wing margin. Wingspan approximately 7 cm.

In any event, the wings of Mourning Cloaks are similar to a traditional style of clothing worn when in mourning, but maroon or purplish mourning dresses with dull yellow trim were a matter of “half mourning” in Victorian England, whereas full mourning clothing was all black. In the UK, this species is known as the Camberwell Beauty, in remembrance of two migrant individuals (yes, this species will sometimes undergo “irruptive” migrations, in years when they are especially common) that made their way from the European mainland to Camberwell, a part of London. In French, the name is Morio, a word that also refers to starlings, birds that share a dark ground colour with yellow accents. As for the scientific name, Nymphalis means “nymph,” and refers to the forest nymphs of Greek mythology, while Antiope was the name of one of the mythical Amazons. You will find, however, that if you Google the word “antiopa,” almost all of the hits will refer to the butterfly, which has now eclipsed its namesake.

Links:

http://www.cbif.gc.ca/eng/species-bank/butterflies-of-canada/mourning-cloak/?id=1370403265696

http://entomology.museums.ualberta.ca/searching_species_details.php?fsn=nymphalis+antiopa&sb=1&r=2&o=1&c=2&s=2652&sn=Nymphalis+antiopa

Photos supplied by John Acorn

2018 ESA, ESC, and ESBC Joint Annual Meeting Call for Submissions!

The joint annual meeting currently accepting submissions for 10-minute papers, posters, and 3-minute presentations. All submitted presentations are due by Monday, June 4.
Submissions are being accepted for the following sections:

  • Medical, Urban, & Veterinary Entomology (MUVE)
  • Physiology, Biochemistry, & Toxicology (PBT)
  • Plant-Insect Ecosystems (P-IE)
  • Systematics, Evolution, & Biodiversity (SysEB)

To submit a paper of to obtain more information click here

Registration and housing will open June 1

Invertebrate Seminars at Eagle Hill 2018

The Eagle Hill Institute in Maine has announced its insect and arachnid related summer seminars.   You can view the full seminar schedule here.

The 2018 ESA, ESC, and ESBC Joint Annual Meeting is now Accepting Program Symposia Submissions!  

Submissions should highlight the 2018 theme of Crossing Borders, feature diverse organizers or speakers that includes members from both the United States and Canada, and feature an innovative way to interact with the audience to make for a fun and engaging event!  Help us develop a diverse Annual Meeting program by submitting a proposal to organize a symposium. Submissions are due February 1, 2018.

Submit your Program Symposia here!

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A new home for an old Blog

Welcome to the new home of the ESC Blog!

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Nearly 350 million years ago, insects evolved the ability to totally transform themselves, and proceeded to take over the planet in a way that no other group of organisms has since. These new holometabolous species had stumbled upon the process of complete metamorphosis, a complex physiological process that is controlled by hormonal regulation, connected to outside stimuli, and constrained by natural selection, and which provided them the opportunity to further divide and conquer ecological niches while avoiding having adults compete directly with larvae for resources and space.

Today, insects with the ability to rearrange and reassign the majority of their cells into a new phenotypic expression are considered by many to represent a perfect allegory for rebirth, a new chance to make a difference, and a new opportunity to take on the world in ways they couldn’t before. While we here at the ESC Blog aren’t immune to allusions of grandeur and promises of world-changing impact, for now we’ll happily settle for a metamorphosis that results in a new look and home on the newly redesigned Entomological Society of Canada website, while we continue to provide a means for entomologists to share their passion, interests, and ideas in a public forum.

The ESC Blog debuted in June, 2012 at escsecblog.com, primarily because the old ESC website predated the very concept of a blog, and wasn’t technologically capable of hosting one. Now that the ESC homepage has been redesigned and updated thanks to Jordan Bannerman and the ESC Web Content committee, it only makes sense for us to make like a monarch and migrate, allowing us to better integrate with all of the other endeavours and efforts associated with the Entomological Society of Canada, and provide our authors and community better access to the ESC membership-at-large.

If this is your first introduction to the ESC Blog, thanks for joining us! While we work to continue bringing new content to the blog, why not poke through our archives (which we’ve fully migrated over to our new home) and see what we’ve been up to the last 5 years? Originally founded by Chris Buddle, Crystal Ernst, and Morgan Jackson as a means for entomologists with an interest in Canadian entomology to share what they were up to, the ESC Blog has provided an opportunity for entomologists and insect enthusiasts to contribute to a global conversation. Since 2012, we’ve welcomed Sean McCann as an additional editor, and published more than 200 articles that have been widely shared and read online, and we look forward to continuing to bring the inside scoop on insect research for years to come. We’ve covered everything from the pluralization of thrips, to an entomologist’s Nobel connection, and are thrilled to share new research from the next generation of entomologists.

If you’re interested in contributing to the ESC Blog, don’t hesitate to get in touch! We’re always looking for stories from the lab or field, updates on new and emerging research that you’re involved with (or that you just admire!), and the ways in which insects intersect with our lives. If you have photos, videos, or observations you’d like to share, graduate student or employment opportunities you need to recruit, or resources for your research that you need to find, we’re more than happy to help you share them with the entomological community in a timely manner. And if you’re on Twitter, be sure to follow @CanEntomologist for up-to-the-minute updates from your society, as well as its members, editors, and publications.

CONTACT THE SOCIETY

Association Coordinator: info@esc-sec.ca

ESC President: ESCPresident@esc-sec.ca

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