Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Polygonia interrogationis’

This year has been full of question marks as our lives have been turned upside down by the pandemic and so many of those questions have gone unanswered. Somehow, then, it seemed appropriate that I spotted this Question Mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis) on Tuesday when I was exploring Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

At this time of the year, when the leaves are turning brown and falling to the ground, this butterfly blends in well with its surroundings. This butterfly, however, did not seem interested in blending in and chose instead a rocky surface to help highlight the irregular shape of its wings. Normally Question Marks are more opaque in their brown coloration, but the sun was illuminating the wings from behind and gave us a hint of the beautiful orange interior and distinctive markings of this butterfly—I love it when internal beauty shines through.

Question Mark butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

Read Full Post »

Do you like hidden surprises? It is often hard to spot Question Mark butterflies (Polygonia interrogationis), because the drab texture and color of their external wings makes them look like dead leaves, helping them to blend in well with their surroundings.

When I spotted this butterfly last Tuesday at Jackson Miles Abbott Wetland Refuge, it was perched with its wings closed. Gradually the butterfly began to open them wide and I was treated to the spectacular display of its inner wings that seemed to glow in the sunlight. The beauty that was hidden was now revealed in its full glory.

It makes me wonder how much hidden beauty I miss every day, deceived by external appearances and rushed by the hectic pace of daily life. Who knows what beauty awaits if I am alert and patient? Maybe those are the question marks to which I should be paying more attention.

 

Question Mark butterfly

Question Mark butterfly

Question Mark butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

Read Full Post »

Nature photographers need to know their punctuation marks well. Last week I spotted an Eastern Comma butterfly (Polygonia comma) and this week on Monday I spotted its “cousin,” a Question Mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis) at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

I have always wondered what was going through the mind of the person that chose the official name of a given species. What caused them to focus on a particular characteristic in choosing the name? Was the person who named these butterflies a grammarian?

In the case of the Question Mark butterfly, the best identifying mark is visible only when the wings are closed. The Question Mark has white markings which more or less resemble a question mark (?) on the underside of its hindwings. (Check out the natureblog.org posting “A Question Mark, a Comma, and a Question of Origin,” to see examples of these markings.)

The good news is that there is also a way to identify a Question Mark when its wings are open—the Question Mark has four black spots in a line on each of its upper wings with the outermost spot somewhat elongated, as you can see in the first photo below.

For the sake of comparison, I am reprising a photo from last week of an Eastern Comma butterfly. I flipped it 180 degrees so it is easier to spot the differences. If you look at the butterfly in the second photo, you can see that there are only three spots on each of the upper wings, which makes it a Comma, rather than a Question Mark. (One sharp viewer last week suggested that they should have more appropriately named the butterfly with the three spots the “Ellipsis Butterfly” rather than the Eastern Comma Butterfly.) In case you are curious about the reasons for the “comma,” the butterfly has markings that look sort of like a comma (,) on the underside of its hindwings that are visible when the wings are closed.

 

Question Mark butterfly

Question Mark butterfly

 

Eastern Comma butterflyy

Eastern Comma butterfly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

When they keep their wings closed, some butterflies match their surroundings so well that they are almost invisible. Question Mark butterflies (Polygonia interrogationis) look like dead leaves and at this time of the year there are plenty of fallen leaves littering the landscape.

It was impossible for me to me the distinctive autumn colors of this Question Mark when I spotted it earlier this month at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.  I had to back up a bit in order to focus on the butterfly with my telephoto zoom lens and I actually had trouble seeing it when it decided to close its wings. Fortunately it spread its wings a little bit and I was able to capture the second image below.

A month or so ago it seemed like there were more dragonflies than butterflies, but now the ratio seems to have shifted. Butterflies, especially Common Buckeyes, are still flying in good numbers, while the quantity of dragonflies continues to drop.

Question Mark

Question Mark

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

 

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »