THE MOURNING CLOAK1
It was a very sunny day in March, just such a day as one might mistake for April.
But April had not come yet; for there were
1 Van-es´sa An-ti-o´pa, the name of a particular kind of butterfly.
patches of snow here and there upon the hilltops, and the air was not without a touch of frost.
Yet it really did seem so much like spring that many a shy thing peeped out from its hidden nook, as if wondering whether the long, wintry months were really over.
The little pussy cats of the willow sat in double rows along the stem, all ready to throw off their scaly cloaks so as to make a fine display of their soft, mouse-colored fur.
And the squirrels and chipmunks sported about as if they had never seen a hard, crusted snowdrift in all their lives. Far down in the meadow there was a great heap of stones, from which the snow had melted away; and even this rough, hard pile held its share of winters hidden treasures, as you will presently see.
For in a deep space between two large stones there was the faint flutter of a tiny sash of gold. Was it the gilded border of a fairy queens mantle?
Ah, but there was another, and still another!
And some of them had the edges badly soiled and torn.
There were so many, in fact, that it looked as if there might be a whole band of fairies shut up in that strong, stone fortress.
And so it proved that a large troupe of fairy beings had been caught in a November snowstorm, and had fled to this stony refuge for safety.
And there they had remained during the long, dreary winter, waiting for the warm breath of spring to float over their hiding place and set them free.
Now can you guess what this fairy circle was? I will tell you. It was nothing more nor less than a family of butterflies that had hidden themselves away during the winter, so as to come out and greet the pale sunbeams of the early spring.
The helpless, almost lifeless little creatures were very closly huddled together as if to keep one another warm; and they had no doubt found it quite a safe stronghold for their winter quarters.
Each one had its wings folded closely together above its back, as if it had settled down for a very long nap.
The wings of this family of butterflies are of a purplish brown above, prettily edged with a broad band of buff; and near this yellow edge there is a row of pale-blue spots.
But the under part of the wings is of a much darker color; it is of a dull blue-black, marked, here and there, with a few faint streaks of a lighter hue.
Not very many butterflies are able to live through the cold weather; but quite a number of this family may often be found in midwinter, sticking fast to the rafters of old buildings, and in the cracks of stone walls.
It is perhaps on account of its somber shade that this insect is sometimes called the mourning cloak.
When found in this way, they appear to be dead; but if they are placed in the warm sunshine, they will soon show signs of life, and become as active as ever.
Dr. J. A. Lintner, N. Y. State Entomologist.
They are very welcome visitors in early spring, even though their pretty wings are often somewhat faded and torn.
A very close observer1 of insects and of their habits tells us that this butterfly, if disturbed, will often fold up its legs and appear to be dead. I wonder if it thinks it will escape harm by doing that!
Its larval babies are homely things, and they are hungry things too; they feed on the leaves of the poplar, the elm, and the willow.
And like their parents, they huddle together as closely as possible; so closely, indeed, that it does seem as if they would all feed on the same leaf if they could.
Sometimes they crowd so thickly upon a single
branch that they bend it down very low with their weight. So you may be sure that it does not take them a great while to strip a tree of its green leaves.
These black, bristly creatures are marked with very small, white dots; and there is a row of eight brick-red spots along the back.
As they creep along over the trees, they eat and grow, and eat and grow, while all along their track may be found their shriveled, cast-off clothing.
And now, should you chance to come across a family of these ugly larval children, you need have no fear of their black, bristly spines, for they will not harm you.
And if you will gather a few of them, and feed them on the leaves that they like best, they will enter the pupa state after a time; and then, in a little less than two weeks, they will come forth, each one clad in a mourning cloak.
A GIFTED FAMILY
Do you know the brown thrasher? He is own cousin to the mocking bird, and is a noted singer.
He wears a coat of cinnamon red, trimmed with brown, and marked at the edges with lines of white. His vest is of a somewhat lighter shade, and is streaked with dark-brown lines.
When he is on the wing, he spreads out his yellowish-red tail feathers like the rays of a fan.
He knows so many tunes, and can sing is so many different voices, that he is often called the brown mocker; and he sometimes gives such fine evening concerts that he has won for himself the title of nightingale. But he is not the real nightingale that we read so much about.
He belongs to the thrush family, and is the largest of them all; in fact, he is a brown thrush, if you call him by his real, plain, home-spun name, leaving off his titles.
You should see him when the cherry trees and the hedgerows are in blossom! His throat is so brimful of melody then, that it runs over; and his gushing strains, so sweet and clear, may be heard a half mile away.
A pair of these birds once made a nest in a thicket of briers very near the ground. It was built of small sticks, filled in with layers of dry
leaves, and was lined with fine, threadlike roots; but there was no mud plaster to make it firm and strong.
These birds build so low that the rough winds can not shake their nests, so they do not need to make them very secure.
Within the nest the mother bird laid five greenish-white eggs, dotted with reddish brown; they were prettily ovate in form, and were nearly an inch in length.
Now it happpened, one day, while the owners of this small abode were away from home, that a large, black snake took it upon himself to visit their quarters, on search of fresh eggs.
He had hardly made his way through the tangled briers when the two birds returned, and, finding the intruders head so near their open door, they flew at him in a great fury.
They beat him with their strong wings, and pecked at his head and eyes with their hard, horny beaks, till he was forced to glide swiftly away through the sharp, thorny briers that pierced and stung him on either side.
Her mate kept her constantly supplied with beetles,
crickets, and other insects, and I am afraid that he stole a kernel of corn now and then from a newly-planted hill. But the large number of insects that he destroyed more than made amends for the theft.
One day a man, who was strolling in the fields, came upon the nest of small fledgelings, and carried one of them home with him to raise as a pet.
The parents birds pursued him, scolding loudly, but finally returned to the nest to look after the others that were still left to them.
The young thrasher was put into a cage, and he grew to be very tame, and had many cunning ways.
When a crust of bread was thrown into the cage, he would pick it up and carry it to his saucer of water and soak it well before eating it.
Like his parents, he was fond of crickets, beetles, wasps, and all insects having a crusty, hard covering for their bodies.
One day a large wasp was dropped into his food basket. He caught it, at once, and knocked and thrashed it about till its wings were so broken that it could no longer fly.
Then he threw it down on its back, and eyed it very closely to see if it had a sting; and, to make himself very sure on this point, he took up the insects abdomen in his bill and gave it a tight squeeze, so as to make the poison flow out, before he ventured to swallow it.
Then he gulped it down with a relish, and turned his pretty head from side to side, as if asking for more.
As he did so, there was a proud look in his golden-yellow eye that seemed to say, Oh, I am a knowing fellow; but it is not to be wondered at, for I belong to a very gifted family.