Camberwell Beauty

Camberwell Beauty  Nymphalis antiopa (Linnaeus 1758 )  

 Family: Nymphalidae, (subgroup Nymphalinae):  in english : The Nymphalids or Vanessids


Native of  Europe and North America  where it is known as the Mourning Cloak . English name Camberwell Beauty derived from its discovery in Camberwell, London in 18th century.  A resident of  mountain forests  requiring cold winters to successfully hibernate. Long range wanderer

 Photos, including header photo, by Peter Eeles

The Camberwell Beauty is a strong-flying immigrant species which makes occasional rare appearances in Yorkshire. 

It is a very large, apparently black, butterfly with broad white, cream or lemon-yellow bands edging the wings. A close view should show a line of blue spots inside the pale bands, and a brown-burgundy gloss to the dark areas.  The species may fly high around trees with the light wing bands not especially evident and can be confused with the similarly dark but usually smaller Peacock. It  is also often known as the Mourning Cloak and in past times it was also known as the Grand Surprise. It is often the first butterfly to be seen in spring in much of its range flying while snow is still on the ground. 


The Camberwell Beauty usually inhabits mountain areas and woodland , laying eggs on sallows, poplars, elms and birches.  lt will also use other habitats which contain its foodplants or suitable sources of nectar, including gardens and orchards.  Adults prefer tree sap bleeds, honeydew, excrement or rotting fruit but also feed on garden flowers.

Status:  Its European status is decreasing but not threatened.

It has a single brood and generally seen singly, usually between June and September, but occasionally in spring.  Immigration to Yorkshire is often assumed to be from Scandinavia, but it can also be from central or southern Europe as indicated by the consistently higher number of reports from south-eastern England than from Yorkshire.  June or July sightings are more likely to be from central or southern Europe (as the southern flight period is earlier), whilst August or September records are more likely to be from Scandinavia, but this is not a golden rule and weather conditions may cause variations and overlaps.  In some years though there are large invasions and these are called “antiopa years”.

Within Yorkshire it’s most common along the east coast and around the Humber Estuary, particularly the Port of Hull.  It was suggested in the 1950’s that the butterfly was not a natural immigrant, but came in with timber ships from Finland.  This idea became popular when specimens were also seen in Rotherham where there was a wood import company.  However, there is little doubt today that most Camberwell Beauties which manage to reach Yorkshire have flown across the North Sea using their own efforts coupled with favourable winds and weather conditions.


 Good years for this species always correspond with very hot summers  1947 which had a summer comparable to 1976 and 2022. In fact the next best  year was indeed 1976.  The next best year was the next hottest summer in 1995.   It has not appeared in any numbers in the recent run of hot summers breaking the pattern somewhat.

Life Cycle

It has never been recorded breeding in British Isles, perhaps because  it needs cold dry winters for its survival hence its affinity with mountain areas. Dampness is thought to cause heavy mortality as they have a tendancy to hiberante at ground level under trees and beneath the snow

In mainland Europe adults can emerges from hibernation quite early but females are not receptive till buds burst on their foodplant. They lay clusters of eggs on the twigs of their favoured willow species, usually in March or April.  The adults may be seen nectaring on sallow blossoms; e.g. pussy willows.  It is thought that butterflies fresh from hibernation do not migrate and hence the assumption is that spring sightings in the British Isles are of individuals which arrived the previous year and successfully hibernated in this country. 

Larvae feed together protected by a silken web, but then disperse long distances after about 50 days.  After a period on the wing adults go into hibernation using a wide range of hiding places, from tree hollows to  garden sheds.  As with all our hibernating butterflies, disturbance or a warm spell in winter may cause an early emergence and, as a result, the butterfly can be seen in any month of the year, even in the British Isles.


There are variations in the colour of cream band on the wing from white to more creamy yellow and this led to the species being sought after by collectors in the past.

With thanks to the Butterflies of Yorkshire edited by Howard M Frost

Catherine Jones                  10/11/20