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Posts Tagged ‘Polygonia comma’

Yesterday was a beautiful spring-like day and I went on a long hike at Prince William Forest Park, the largest protected natural area in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region at over 16,000 acres. It felt like the perfect weather for finding dragonflies, but it is still a bit too early for them.

I was, however, quite excited to get my first shots this year of a butterfly, an Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma). I saw my first butterfly, which was probably of the same species, a couple of weeks ago, but was unable to react quickly enough to take its photo, so it did not “count.” During yesterday’s hike, I spotted six or seven of these little butterflies, but only the first one was cooperative enough to stay still for a portrait.

Eastern Comma butterflies are members a small group of butterflies in our area that emerge in the autumn and overwinter as adults. Other species in that group including the similar-looking Question Mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis) and the Mourning Cloak butterfly (Nymphalis antiopa). When its wings are open, like the one in the photo, it is easy to tell that a butterfly is an Eastern Comma if it has three dark spots in a row on each of its front wings, rather than the four spots found on a Question Mark. (For more information about the two similar species, I recommend a wonderful article at trekohio.com entitled “Butterflies That Punctuate: The Eastern Comma and the Question Mark.”)

Eastern Comma

Eastern Comma

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Today I saw my first butterfly of the year, an Eastern Comma butterfly (Polygonia comma) that was flying about at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Members of this species overwinter as adults and may emerge form their hibernation for brief periods during winter warm spells.

It is not yet spring, but more and more signs point to the fact that it is just around the corner.

Eastern Comma

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Because of our recent snow and cold weather, I was a little shocked on Wednesday to spot an Eastern Comma butterfly (Polygonia comma) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. This butterfly is a real beauty, but I fear that is may well be my last butterfly of the season.

Earlier in the autumn, this butterflies were a perfect match for the foliage.  Now, however, most of the leaves have fallen and are dried up, which makes this butterfly’s muted tones stand out as bright and vibrant.

Eastern Comma butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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The beautiful orange and brown colors of this Eastern Comma butterfly (Polygonia comma) that I recently spotted at Huntley Meadows Park make it a perfect symbol of this autumn season. This species seems to like to perch on trees, sometimes facing downward, as was the case this time.

Not long ago I did a posting that featured a Question Mark butterflya species that closely resembles this one, but the relatively clear white marking on the hind wing make me think this is an Eastern Comma butterfly. My recent record in correctly identifying butterflies has not been great, however, so I welcome a correction if my identification is incorrect.

It is not immediately apparent from this image, but Eastern Comma butterflies blend in really well with the bark of the trees. The sun was shining through the wings from behind, making the orange color of the inner wings much more prominent than usual, allowing us to see both the colors and the shape of this beautiful butterfly.

Eastern Comma

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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There are a lot of fallen leaves scattered all about my neighborhood and at first I thought this butterfly was merely one of them. Then it opened its wings, revealing its inner beauty. Wow!

I am pretty sure this is a Question Mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis), though there is also a chance that it might be an Eastern Comma butterfly (Polygonia comma). Yes, there are butterflies named after punctuation marks.

How do you tell them apart? Well. there is a little white marking on the wings and if it has a single part, it’s a comma, and if it has two parts, it’s a question mark. My challenge in this case was that the marking was not very distinctive. I looked through a lot of material and photos on the internet and the wing shape and coloration started to push me toward the Question Mark, but I still had questions. I came across a posting by TrekOhio.com that illustrated the differences in the spots on the inner wings and I convinced myself the spots in the second photo look like those of a Question Mark.

Whatever the case, the butterfly’s resemblance to a fallen leaf and its beautiful orange color are reminders to me that autumn is surely here, my favorite time of the year.

Question Mark butterfly

Question Mark butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Earlier this month I spotted a butterfly with perfect colors for Halloween and it was perched upside down in a way that reminded me of a bat. (Take a close look at its shadow.)

It’s not really called a Halloween Butterfly—I sometimes like to make up my own names for the creatures that I see and photograph. It was a cool, but sunny day when I came upon the butterfly, which was completely stretched out, basking in the warmth of the sun’s rays. I wasn’t sure it was alive, until it flew away when I moved in a little closer after some initial shots.

The unusual wing shape made me think it was either an Eastern Comma or a Question Mark butterfly—yes, there are butterflies named after punctuation marks—but I wasn’t sure which one. After a little research on line, I’m convinced that it is probably an Eastern Comma butterfly (Polygonia comma). According to a posting on Trekohio.com, Eastern Comma butterflies have three dark spots in a row on their front wings, while Question Mark butterflies have four spots.

Why am I seeing a butterfly this late in the season? Eastern Comma butterflies overwinter as adults. A University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Field Station posting described the process in this way, “They overwinter in cracks and crevices in rocks and trees. There, they certainly freeze, becoming butterfly-sicles, but their blood contains glycogens – antifreeze – that allow their tissues to withstand the winter’s cycles of freezing and thawing.”

In spring, the un-dead arise again.

Happy Halloween.

Eastern Comma

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It’s rare that I actually welcome an insect landing on me, which is usually a prelude to it biting me, but I was really happy when this Eastern Comma butterfly (Polygonia comma) decided it like the way that I tasted.

It initially landed right on my chest and began to lick my shirt and then moved over to the messenger bag in which I carry my camera gear. I carefully removed the bag and was able to get these shots while the Eastern Comma kept busy licking away my accumulated sweat (my apologies to those with delicate sensibilities, but these butterflies don’t land on pretty flowers and instead generally feed on the less photogenic sap, rotting fruit, and dung).

Normally this butterfly blends in well with its environment and is hard to see, but I guess that we would all agree that a blue Adidas bag is not its natural environment. It was also surprisingly easy to identify the butterfly. Last year I agonized in trying to decide if a butterfly I had photographed was a Question Mark or a Comma—the difference is in the shape of the white marking. Yes, those are actually the names of the butterflies. Who makes up these names? It’s the kind of job that I would enjoy.

I haven’t found any other insects named for punctuation marks, but won’t be surprised to find that there is an Asterisk caterpillar or an Ampersand beetle.

comma1_blogcomma2_blog

© 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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