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Mourning Cloak?
Location: Denison, Texas
April 5, 2012 6:08 pm
I have seen about 13 of this in one afternoon crawling around. Is this a mourning cloak? Can they hurt you?
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Mourning Cloak Caterpillar

You are correct.  This is a Mourning Cloak Caterpillar.  They can often be present in great numbers as you have witnessed.  According to the Auburn University webpage on Stinging Caterpillars:  “Several species of nymphalid larvae bear conspicuous bristled or multi-branched spines similar to those found on some stinging caterpillars. One species, the spiny elm caterpillar (larva of the mourning cloak butterfly), is reported to possess urticating spines.”  According to BugGuide:  “Caution: Do not touch the larva; its spines may cause a stinging sensation if handled.”

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination
Location: Texas

35 Responses to Mourning Cloak Caterpillar

  1. Joey says:

    I live in Michigan and I found one

  2. Amy Doe says:

    I find it so weird that these are poisonous caterpillars because when I was about 12 I caught 5 of them, played with them and touched them a lot. Nothing to my memory ever happened to me.

  3. will says:

    I have seen one in california

  4. Chris says:

    They are out in abundance right now in the Red Rock Valley in Nevada. There are literally hundreds of them.. Its really crazy/awesome.

  5. Laurie says:

    There are several “families” of them in a tree in my front yard — yes, hundreds of them! 🙂
    – Southern California

    • Laurie says:

      Some have begun leaving the tree. I missed the mass migration on Monday, the 30th, but yesterday I saw some going off to find a place to make their chrysalises. They move quickly! But there were blue birds around and several (fat) lizards. There are 2 chrysalises I see hanging under the eaves of my house with about 6 more caterpillars looking like they might have found a place to hang in their “J”. Hopefully, in a few weeks I will see some butterflies!

  6. Todd says:

    Seeing them now in a park in West Los Angeles.

  7. Nili Hudson says:

    Just found a bunch on my hammock under my big Chinese Elm in my backyard and on the ground. Does anyone know how long they hang around? I don’t want my dog eating them and/or either of us stepping on them. Thanks!

  8. Caryn Jordan says:

    I just saved at least 50 from ravenous birds!! Already in pray position! They do well with egg crates and a giant cookie jar with Chinese tree leaves! They marched from one end of my yard to the other ” wondering” with purpose! They ate my tree!!

  9. Nadia Fellows says:

    We have been doing the Bugs In Our Schoolyard program at our Boys & Girls Club (JAMS Clubhouse) in Santa Monica. We found 2 of these caterpillars marching across our patio. We were so amazed to see them! Very cool.

  10. Courtney D says:

    I live in MA and saw thousands of them covering my school wall! There so cool!

  11. Caryn Jordan says:

    Today after 15 days of careful watch every mourning cloak butterfly emerged from there amazing transformation ! I fed them some rotted watermelon , they basked in the warm sun for a couple hours. We said our goodbyes! They seemed to float happily with every gust of wind . One by one . Then there were none . These little guys for the record do not eat your garden flowers! Amazing !

    • bugman says:

      Thanks for providing your wonderful experience with Mourning Cloak butterflies. You can continue to put rotting fruit in your garden to provide them with food.

  12. So I found one in my pocket and it’s spine poked my hand.. are they deadly poisonous ? What are symptoms?.. my head felt tingly. Please let me know

    • bugman says:

      Mourning Cloak Caterpillars are not deadly poisonous, though if you had that concern, you should have sought medical advice rather than an internet web site. Local irritation may occur as the site of a sting.

  13. Kelley says:

    Today (Saturday) I noticed about 20 of these guys under the eaves of my house. Some are hanging in a J and some are still laying flat. A few were still crawling up the wall toward the others, presumably to find their spot. Super cool. The only problem is that on Monday morning there will be painters coming to power wash my house and repaint! I’ll have to move them tomorrow (Sunday). I’ve just read about how to move them as chrysalis but can I move them as a J? Will I totally mess up their process?

  14. Jen Marie says:

    Just went outside to find about 30 of these guys all over the backyard, our Chinese Elon and the outside and waves of our house. They are huge, and very fast! I have two toddlers and a German shepherd who all love playing in the yard I told them to not touch the caterpillars but these guys are everywhere – are they dangerous if the kids were to accidentally touch one? There are also a group of sparrows going wild in the neighbors yard and I’m assuming they found their caterpillar family -I want to protect the ones in our yard is there anything I can do?

    • bugman says:

      We have read that Mourning Cloak Caterpillars might sting, but to the best of our knowledge, the sting is not dangerous. The caterpillars do have spines which makes it difficult for many predators to eat them

  15. Alan Rodriguez says:

    What if i pet the spines will it hurt me?

    • bugman says:

      According to BugGuide: “Caution: Do not touch the larva; its spines may cause a stinging sensation if handled. The pupa of the Mourning Cloak is harmless – unlike the pupa of tent caterpillars (Malacosoma species), which may cause an allergic reaction on the skin if handled by allergy sufferers or individuals with very sensitive skin.”

  16. Sonya says:

    I have a couple of these on my courtyard, but non of them have opened. They’ve been hanging for more then two weeks, how long does it take for them to transform? Also, I live in southern California and it’s been hot.

  17. Carrie says:

    We have two mourning cloak caterpillars that seem ready to pupate but they are not hanging upside down yet. They have been holding on horizontally to under-side of a stick for several days without moving. They are still alive, but I’m wondering if this is normal.

  18. Debra says:

    I found this while working at a house yesterday in Lacrosse, WI. He got dragged into the towel I was using and felt his spines as I was working. He seemed fairly chill. We like to name unusual bugs we find, so this guy is now ‘Goliath’.

  19. Bugger says:

    They’re in Canada too, I found a couple on my way to school.

  20. Teresa Price says:

    We seem to have several around our home and many are hanging in the chrysalis stage right now. Southern California.

  21. Addison says:

    I just caught morning clock caterpillar I was playing with it for quite a while and then I got some poking me and I was curious why esteemed we thought it was a poisonous but it was figured out that because of my aunt and the website thank you this is very helpful now I know for next time

  22. Ali Banava says:

    We just found hundreds of these caterpillars in our community on a tree. Many of them have died but we saved a couple of dozens by taking them home. They are ready to hang upside down and pupate. So cool! I am very much tempted to handle them but they are scary looking 🙂 my kids and I can’t wait to see the butterflies.

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