Each type of butterfly has her own system for coping with the winter. The butterfly life cycle goes through an egg stage, a caterpillar stage, a pupa stage and an adult winged stage. This gives the insect several choices for meeting hard times. It may survive the winter as an egg, a caterpillar a pupa or as a winged adult.
Most butterflies sleep through the winter in the egg stage. The beautiful Mama lays her last brood of eggs on the proper plant and perishes with the first cold days. The little eggs in their sturdy case wait out the winter until the warm spring hatches them into caterpillars.
Several butterflies spend the winter in the pupa stage. This seems sensible since the pupa is a sleeping stage in any case. What's more, a pupa is well protected in a durable overcoat. The common white cabbage butterfly is one who sleeps through the winter as a chrysalis. This insect emigrated from Europe to the eastern seaboard of America in the year 1868. It thrived on our cabbage patches and certain plants of the mustard family. It spread westward with each year and in 20 years it reached the Rockies. It now enjoys life from coast to coast.
This white butterfly with black tips produces two to three broods each summer. The last brood of caterpillars turn into chrysalis neat green bundles attached to the underside of their favorite leaves, and they stay that way until spring.
The viceroy is an unusual butterfly because it spends the winter in the caterpillar stage. This orange and brown lady very much like the handsome monarch, produces two or more generations each summer. The eggs are laid on poplar or willow, on which the caterpillars feed. Come fall, Mama perishes leaving behind a brood of fat, buff colored larvae. These caterpillars roll themselves up in old leaves and go to sleep until spring.
Most amazing is the big, beautiful monarch, a ‑butterfly who migrates for the winter. Two to three broods develop through the summer feeding on lush milkweed leaves. Come fall, the entire adult tribe assembles to fly south. They fly in fluttering clouds for hundreds of miles down to Texas and south of the Rio Grande. Come spring, a few battered remnants of the vast army make the long flight back north, some way up into Canada
One whole family of butterflies hibernates through the winter in the adult winged stage. They are the 25 anglewing cousins. The anglewing butterflies have angles and notches along their wings# giving them a lacy appearance. The biggest of them is the handsome mourning cloak, a dark brown butterfly with wings bordered with yellow and a row of blue buttons.
In the fall, the adult anglewing seeks a cozy place to hide. She folds her wings tip to tip and sleeps in a hollow tree or under a heap of old leaves. She means to come out early in the spring. But a warm winter’s day may fool her. Maybe you have seen a dark mourning cloak butterfly fluttering over the sunlit snow. The lovely creature woke up thinking it was spring. She will soon recognize her mistake and go back to her winter quarters for a few more weeks or months.