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Posts Tagged ‘Polygonia interrogationis’

Orange and brown seem to be the perfect color combination for the autumn and this Question Mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis) was suitably celebrating the season this past Friday at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

Question Mark butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I spotted this beautiful butterfly this past weekend at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge. I am pretty sure that it is a Question Mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis), judging from the pattern of its wing spots.

While I may not be absolutely certain that it is a Question Mark butterfly, its beauty is unquestionable.

Question Mark butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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We have had colder than normal weather this past week, so I was quite shocked to see a fairly large orange and black butterfly last Friday fluttering about at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Actually, when the butterfly opened its wings I could see its bright colors, but it kept them closed, the butterfly blended in well with the background and look simply like another fallen leaf.

In our area there are two butterflies that are very similar in appearance and I knew that this one was either and Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma) or a Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis) butterfly. I am often amused by the names given to species in nature and I wonder what kind of a personality some has that decides to name two butterfly species after punctuation marks—almost certainly it was a scientist and not an artist.

You can tell the two species apart by the markings on both the outer and inner wings and I concluded that this one is probably a Question Mark. If you are curious about the differences, check out a posting by TrekOhio called “Butterflies that Punctuate: The Eastern Comma and the Question Mark” that goes into some detail in explaining how to tell the species apart.

In the next few days, the weather is supposed to warm up and hopefully more colorful insects will appear (and maybe even some more birds). It’ll be fun to see what I can find and photograph.

Question Mark butterfly

Question Mark butterfly

© 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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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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