Black Butterfly with Yellow Edges: Exploring Nature’s Unique Coloring

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Black butterflies with yellow edges are a fascinating sight often spotted in gardens and wild habitats. These captivating insects belong to various species displaying unique patterns, making them a favorite among butterfly enthusiasts.

One example of such a butterfly is the Eastern Black Swallowtail, known for its vibrant yellow markings along the edges of its dark wings. In contrast, the California Dogface butterfly showcases yellow “dog face” markings on its upper wings, which makes it easily distinguishable from other species.

The presence of black butterflies with yellow edges contributes to the ecosystem, as they play a vital role in pollination. These colorful creatures are not just appealing to the eye but also serve an essential function in maintaining biodiversity.

Overview of Black Butterfly with Yellow Edges

Common Types

Some common black butterflies with yellow edges include:

  • Black Swallowtail: Males possess a distinct yellow band and females may display it only partially or not at all source
  • Giant Swallowtail: Large butterfly with a striking pattern of yellow bands on dark wings
  • Mourning Cloak: Though not black, its dark wings possess a yellow border, offering a visually similar appearance
  • Yellow Coster: A small butterfly with a combination of black and yellow colors on its wings

Geographical Distribution

  • Black Swallowtail: Common in North America, found in open areas like fields or meadows source
  • Giant Swallowtail: Found in North and South America
  • Mourning Cloak: Widespread in North America, Europe, and Asia
  • Yellow Coster: Mainly distributed in Asia

Here is a comparison table of the common black butterflies with yellow edges:

Butterfly Wingspan Distribution Habitat
Black Swallowtail 2½ – 3½ inches North America Open areas, fields, meadows
Giant Swallowtail 4 – 6 inches North and South America Various, from South to North America
Mourning Cloak 2½ – 4 inches North America, Europe, and Asia Forest edges, wooded areas
Yellow Coster 1½ – 2 inches Asia Forest clearings, scrub, and grasslands

Please note that the geographical distribution and wingspan of the various black butterflies with yellow edges may vary slightly depending on the region and environmental factors.

Habitats of Black and Yellow Butterflies

Woodlands and Forest Edges

Black and yellow butterflies, such as the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail and the Zebra Longwing, are often found in woodlands and forest edges. These habitats provide:

  • Shelter from predators
  • Abundant food sources like nectar
  • Host plants for egg-laying

For example, the Northern Chequered Skipper (Carterocephalus silvicola) inhabits woodlands in Europe, while the Cairns Birdwing is native to Asia and Australia’s rainforests.

Deserts and Semi-Deserts

Deserts and semi-deserts also host unique black and yellow butterflies, such as the Yellow Pansy and the Orange Sulphur (Colias eurytheme). These butterflies adapt to the harsh conditions by relying on:

  • Drought-tolerant host plants like yucca
  • Various flowering plants for nectar

An example is the Southern Festoon (Zerynthia polyxena), which depends on the Aristolochia plant in Southern Europe.

Grasslands

Grasslands support a diverse array of black and yellow butterflies too. These butterflies use the open spaces and diverse plant life to thrive. Some common species include:

  • Spanish Festoon (Zerynthia rumina)
  • Northern Mexico’s beautifully marked black and yellow butterfly species

Comparison table of habitat types:

Habitat Example Species Location Host Plants
Woodlands/Forest Eastern Tiger Swallowtail North America Mixed hardwoods
Zebra Longwing Cuba, Mexico Passionvine
Deserts/Semi-Deserts Yellow Pansy Africa, Asia Dry grasses
Orange Sulphur (Colias eurytheme) US, Canada Clover, Alfalfa
Grasslands Spanish Festoon (Zerynthia rumina) Europe Aristolochia spp.
Carterocephalus silvicola Northern Mexico Grasses

Notable Species in Detail

Papilio Cresphontes

Papilio Cresphontes, also known as the Giant Swallowtail butterfly, is a large, striking butterfly with black wings and yellow edges. This species is part of the Papilionidae family, which is known for their prominent “tails.” Some features of Papilio Cresphontes include:

  • Wingspan: 4-7 inches
  • Colors: Black wings with yellow or orange edges

The Giant Swallowtail is an attractive species commonly found in North and South America. Its caterpillars feed on citrus plants, making them occasional pests in citrus groves. However, they also play a crucial role as pollinators.

Megathymus Yuccae

Megathymus Yuccae, or the Yucca Giant-Skipper butterfly, is another black butterfly with yellow edges. Belonging to the Hesperiidae family, this species is predominantly found in the United States and Mexico. Characteristics of Megathymus Yuccae include:

  • Wingspan: 2-2.5 inches
  • Colors: Dark wings with yellow or white edges

These butterflies have a strong connection with yucca plants, as their larvae feed on yucca roots and leaves. They contribute to the pollination of these plants and ensure their survival. Adult Yucca Giant-Skippers also have a unique flight pattern, appearing to “skip” through the air.

Comparison Table

Feature Papilio Cresphontes Megathymus Yuccae
Family Papilionidae (Swallowtails) Hesperiidae (Giant-Skippers)
Wingspan 4-7 inches 2-2.5 inches
Colors Black wings with yellow edges Dark wings with yellow or white edges
Primary Food Source Citrus plants (caterpillars) Yucca roots and leaves (larvae)
Geographic Range North and South America United States and Mexico
Role in Ecosystem Pollinators, occasional pests Pollinators, crucial for yucca plants

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Mourning Cloak, Anglewing Butterfly and Gossamer Winged Butterfly

3 butterflies
Some more for your fine web page, One a Mourning Cloak Butterfly. I stalked up on it and got close to 4 inches for this picture!! It didnt fly off untell I bumped the grass with my foot. It must of been the heat, 109 degrees, it just couldn’t do anything but sit there. The orange one I think is called a Hoary Comma, Im not sure though. It is not on your webpage so enjoy the new picture 🙂 I took this one on a hike in the mountians one earlly spring about 4 years ago. The blue one is a Gossamer Winged butterfly I believe. again Im not sure on that. It was rather hard to photograph this little guy. It kept flying off and landing on my camera haha! Then it would land back on the same flower. But finally I got the picture.
Mike
oh btw I got your webpage linked up on my links section and also I got you linked in my Black hills gallery with the Achemon Caterpiller you ID’ed for me.

Mourning Cloak Anglewing Butterfly


Hi Mike,
Thanks for sending in your butterfly photos. We are not sure if this is a Hoary Comma, Polygonia gracilis, but we can tell you it is the correct genus Polygonia, the Anglewing Butterflies. We are not sure what species of Lycean Blue you have here. They are very difficult to sort as to species.

Letter 2 – Mourning Cloak

mourning cloak?
hi guys.
here’s a photo of what i think is a mourning cloak? i took the photo on a beach in michigan’s upper peninsula in august. after discovering your site on accident a short while ago, it has officially become my new heroin. i absolutely love this site. keep it up. thanks.
-epk

Hi again EPK,
This is a Mourning Cloak Butterfly, and we are thrilled you have kicked the old heroin. Since we try our best to post frequently, you should be guaranteed a daily fix.

Letter 3 – Mourning Cloak?

Hi. My name is Jacky, I go and visit my grandma every week and at her house she has this butterflie that she think got in when she brought her plants inside for the winter. we found and a put it under a strong light that gave him some heat and i gave him some friet jiuce and water. ( that is what i read on the internet to give him) he drank some of it and after sitting under the lamp for about one min. he was flying around. I would like to know what kind of butterflie he is though, i dont have a pictuer but i can tell you what he looks like. He is black with some orange specks on his back with yellow specks on the edge and some blue specks before the orange. it is hard to exsplain what he looks like but i hope you understand. I tryed to find some pictures but i cant find any. I would be really happy if you could help me out. THANK YOU.
-Jacky, Tolland CT

Hi Jackie,
While I can’t be sure based on your description, it sounds like your grandma has a Mourningcloak in her house. These butterflies hibernate, which could explain why it was in the house. Their scientific name is Nymphalis antiopa. Here is a photo I found online.

Letter 4 – Mourning Cloak

Thanks! have a picture as a gift
Location: Lutsen, MN
July 19, 2011 11:26 am
And since I just sent an email asking you to help me ID two specimens I thought I would pass along the best picture I’ve ever taken of a butterfly.
Take June 25 2011 near Lutsen, MN.
I present Mourning Cloak:
Signature: Heather

Mourning Cloak

Hi Heather,
Thanks for sending us your photo of a Mourning Cloak.  It really highlights the blue spots nicely.  We have observed that Mourning Cloaks are especially common this year in our Mt Washington Los Angeles neighborhood.  We will try to locate the other identification request you mentioned.

Letter 5 – Mourning Cloak

Subject: Damaged Butterfly
Location: West Los Angeles
June 25, 2012 6:45 pm
Hi Bugman,
This guy’s had a rough time of it, but was ably to fly quite adeptly. At first I thought it was a Funereal Duskywing, but it has white trim on both front & rear wings and all the pictures I can find of the FD have white only in their rear wings?
Can you please identify it?
Thx, Jeff
Signature: Jeff bremer

Mourning Cloak

Hi Jeff,
The Funereal Duskywing is a much smaller butterfly than this old, tattered Mourning Cloak.  Mourning Cloaks are long lived butterflies that are found throughout much of the northern hemisphere.  In England they are known as Camberwell Beauties.  In places where there is snow during the winter, Mourning Cloaks pass the winter by hibernating in hollow trees and other sheltered locations.  In California, they are also know to hibernate during our rainy season and during the hot dry weather as well.  They are a harbinger of spring, often being the first butterfly seen after winter and they are even known to fly on sunny days when there is still snow on the ground.  Mourning Cloaks have no problem finding flowers in California, but in places where it snows, their first meal after emerging from hibernation is more likely to be sap that runs from trees that have been damaged.  Sadly, the condition of your specimen did not allow you to appreciate the beauty of this lovely butterfly.  A Mourning Cloak in prime form is a velvety beauty with blue spots and cream trim on the wing edges.  Mourning Cloak Caterpillars feed on leaves of willow and elm and they can be very numerous at times.

Letter 6 – Mourning Cloak

Subject: Mourning Cloak butterfly on hydrangea paniculata ’tardiva’
Location: Naperville, IL
September 6, 2012 10:50 pm
Hi Daniel~
These hydrangeas attract all sorts of butterflies and dragonflies, not to mention bees, wasps, ants, and beetles in late summer. And they provide a nice afternoon backdrop for photographing insects, too. I hope you have a lovely weekend.
Signature: -Dori Eldridge

Mourning Cloak

Hi Dori,
It is nice to see your photo of a Mourning Cloak nectaring from a hydrangea.  According to BugGuide:  “Adults feed primarily on tree sap (oaks preferred) and rotting fruit; only occasionally on flower nectar.”
  This individual will most likely overwinter in some hollow tree or other protected spot, and if you are lucky, you will see it flying about on a sunny spring day when there is still snow on the ground.  Since they hibernate as adults, Mourning Cloaks are among the longest lived butterflies.

Letter 7 – Mourning Cloak

Subject: Mourning Cloak
Location: Southeast Tennessee, Cumberland Plateau
June 17, 2013 9:44 am
We saw this beauty the other morning and did not remember seeing a similar butterfly. From a distance, it looked black with bright yellow edges, but up close, it is much more interesting. From other photos in your files, I believe it is a Mourning Cloak.
We are on the Cumberland Plateau in southeast Tennessee.
Thanks for all your work and wonderful website!
Signature: Bob

Mourning Cloak
Mourning Cloak

Dear Bob,
This is just about the most gorgeous photo we have ever seen of a Mourning Cloak.  It is obviously a freshly eclosed individual since it is so perfect and its colors so vivid.  Thanks so much for adding to our archives.

Letter 8 – Mourning Cloak from Alaska

Subject: Butterfly Alaska
Location: Anchorage, Alaska
July 11, 2016 1:08 pm
My daughter and I found this butterfly floating through our backyard. I think they are attracted to all of our flowers and flowering trees and shrubs. I also think they like some of the water than gets sprayed all over the yard by my toddler. I love butterflies and usually only see the yellow swallowtails. I’ve never seen one like this before. (Taken in Anchorage ,Alaska May 2016)
Signature: MsRobin

Mourning Cloak
Mourning Cloak

Dear MsRobin,
This lovely butterfly is a Mourning Cloak, and we doubt it is attracted to the flowers in your yard.  Mourning Cloaks are more unusual in their dietary preferences.  They prefer rotting fruit and sap oozing from trees to nectar derived from blossoms.  Mourning Cloaks are also among the most long lived butterflies because those that mature toward the end of summer will hibernate as adults.  They are known to fly about on sunny winter days while there is still snow on the ground to search for tree sap.  We would love to have you submit images of your Alaskan Swallowtails as well.

Authors

  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

    View all posts
Tags: Insect Description

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5 Comments. Leave new

  • I found his caterpillar the other day, beautiful spiked guy.

    Reply
  • Ah yes. That would maybe explain why it chose to alight on the old spruce log. Thank you. It is beautiful.
    MsRobin

    Reply
  • Ah yes. That would maybe explain why it chose to alight on the old spruce log. Thank you. It is beautiful.
    MsRobin

    Reply
  • I almost stepped on one of these caterpillars on the sidewalk on my walk in Monrovia, CA a couple weeks ago. Fast mover!

    Reply
  • I have have a Chinese elm tree here in San Diego county. The Mourning Cloak Caterpillar, are loving the tree. Hope to see the butterflies soon.

    Reply

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