Posts Tagged ‘orange butterfly’

I always seem to have real problems making positive identification of the smaller, nondescript butterflies, like this little orange skipper butterfly that I photographed recently at my local marshland park.

If I had to go out on a limb, I’d hazard a guess that this is a Delaware Skipper (Anatrytone logan), although with more than 3500 recognized species of skippers, the odds are not in my favor.


© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Back and forth I went as I tried to answer a simple question, “Comma or question mark?” You’re probably imagining that I was caught in some kind of punctuation dilemma, but that was not the case. No, I was not stuck in some special hell reserved for grammarians and editors, nor was I sweating out a standardized English test. Instead, I was trying to make a decision on the identity of this unusual looking butterfly that I encountered this past weekend.

Comma or Question Mark?

The colors of this butterfly almost perfectly matched the tree on which he was perched, facing downward in a way that almost perfectly camouflaged him. I rotated the image for the ease of viewers, hoping they will avoid the sore neck that I got as I turned my head trying to make out the details of the butterfly. In addition to the unusual color, the shape of this butterfly was pretty distinctive. What kind was he? As I was pondering that question, the butterfly—who had flown away and returned—opened his wings a little and I got a glimpse of the brilliant orange concealed inside his drab exterior.

A glimpse of orange

As he slowly opened his wings, more of more of the inside of his wings was revealed. The light shining through his wings made the colors glow like those of a back-lit stained glass window.

Back-lit wings

The butterfly flew away again, but amazingly returned once more and treated me to a full view of his open wings—his breathtaking beauty was revealed in full.

Beauty revealed

He sure was beautiful, but I wanted to know his name. Previously I had read about a butterfly called the Eastern Comma butterfly (Polygonia comma) and I had a vague recollection that he looked like this one. Wikipedia’s article on the Eastern Comma also helped explain why he was on a tree rather than some beautiful flower, like most of the butterflies that I have encountered. “This butterfly seldom visits flowers, but rather feeds on sap, rotting fruit, salts and minerals from puddling, and dung.”

I was still not sure of his identity, so I continued to search for clues. It turns out that there are two butterflies with similar shapes and colors. One is the Eastern Comma and the other is the Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis), really. I feel like I am in some kind of Abbott and Costello style routine akin to their famous “Who’s on first?” routine. (Here’s a You Tube link to the classic routine if you are not familiar with it. It is definitely worth watching.)

The key to distinguishing the two is the shape of the little white markings on the wings and whether the markings are in two parts or one. If you think back to punctuation, you can probably guess that the one in two parts is the question mark and the unitary one is the comma. The website Gardens With Wings has an article with side by side photos of the two butterflies in case I have confused you.

So, which one did I photograph? I think I saw at least two different butterflies, but the one in the initial two photos and the one below all seem to have the white marking in two parts, which make them Question Mark butterflies (Polygonia interrogationis).

Question Mark butterfly

To be honest, though, the marking looks more like a semicolon than a question mark. Why isn’t there a Semicolon Butterfly?

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Here are a couple of shots of a Pearl Crescent butterfly (Phyciodes tharos) that I took yesterday at Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, Virginia. The Gardens With Wings website cautions that the Pearl Crescent resembles several other butterflies and the patterns of Pearl Crescent butterflies are variable, according to Wikipedia. I apologize in advance, therefore, if I have misidentified this butterfly, but I think we can all agree that he is amazingly beautiful.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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