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Polygonia comma

What do they look like?

The eggs of P. comma are pale green and the larva can be a variety of color combinations, such as; greenish-white or cream-white, greenish-brown or black with yellow black-tipped spines, or red-brown with a dull pink or black head. The pupa is dark mottled brown (with yellower patches) or brown (with a dark lateral line and greenish streaks) or white (with a little yellow-brown coloring); all with gold or silver spots in the saddle. The actual butterflies of this species are characterized by their small to medium-sized and irregularly notched anglewings, the concave curvature and deeply indented outer margin of the forewing, and the taillike extensions on the hindwing. The dorsal forewing and dorsal hindwing are brownish orange with black markings, while the underside of the wings are darker and closely resemble a dead leaf. Polygonia comma are distinguished from the others in the genus by the small C-shaped silvery spot on the underside of the hind wing. (Borror, et al., 1981; Scott, 1986)

Where do they live?

Polygonia comma lives in the eastern half of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains from southeast Canada to central Texas and the Gulf Coast. (Struttmann, 2000)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Polygonia comma can be found in deciduous woodlands; woods near rivers, marshes, swamps, and other water sources. (Struttmann, 2000)

How do they reproduce?

Overwintered adults emerge in early spring and lay quickly maturing eggs that produce a "summer" generation of darker-colored adults. The new generation will in turn lay eggs that mature even more quickly to produce the lighter-colored adults. These adults emerge in the fall and, crawling beneath a piece of bark, hibernate to re-emerge as the "spring" adults. In warmer climates it is common for the species to try and squeeze a third, or perhaps even a fourth, generation into the summer cycle. However, not all the offspring of a "spring" female in a bivoltine species develop into "summer" adults. Some will skip the double-hatching cycle entirely and emerge as "spring/fall" adults ready to go into hibernation. On the other hand, if the weather is too cold and there is too little sunshine, a larger proportion of the butterflies will opt for a single hatching. This often occurs in the more northerly latitudes.

During the second summer generation of -commas-, it is important that the caterpillars mature quickly to avoid potential frost and inclement weather. When the eggs are laid on the plants that the caterpillars feed on, they tend to mature more rapidly. Therefore, the female P. comma prefer to lay their eggs on those plants on which the caterpillars feed. The caterpillars on the "preferred" plants usually mature in 21-23 days with a 89-100% survival rate. However, on the "not preferred" plants the caterpillars usually take approximately 31-42 days to mature with only a 0-60% survival rate. (Majka, 2000)

How do they behave?

Males perch on leaves or tree trunks to watch for females, flying aggressively to chase other insects or even birds. Eggs are laid singly or in stacks under host plant leaves or stems. Caterpillars are usually solitary and feed on leaves at night. Older caterpillars make daytime shelters by pulling leaf edges together with silk. Winter form adults hibernate, and the angular edges of the wings and the leaf-like color patterns on the undersides of the wings help to disguise the insects from predators. (Struttmann, 2000)

How do they communicate with each other?

What do they eat?

Some of the larvae feed on nettles or hop-vine while others feed on elms, willows, or hazels. However, adults feed on rotting fruit, tree sap, and only rarely nectar. (Majka, 2000; Struttmann, 2000)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • wood, bark, or stems
  • sap or other plant fluids

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

  • These animal colors help protect them
  • cryptic
  • Known Predators

Do they cause problems?

Since P. comma larvae feed on plants, they are often serious pests of cultivated plants and stored grain or meal. In addition, however, the members of this species have also been known to occasionally feed on various fabrics. (Borror, et al., 1981)

  • Ways that these animals might be a problem for humans
  • crop pest

How do they interact with us?

The adults of this species are quite beautiful and are therefore sought after by collectors. These butterflies also produce silk and often serve as inspiration for art and designs. (Borror, et al., 1981)

Are they endangered?

Polygonia comma is not listed as endangered or threatened. (Struttmann, 2000)


Ashlie Brown (author), Southwestern University, Stephanie Fabritius (editor), Southwestern University.


Bland, R., H. Jaques. 1978. How to Know the Insects. Dubuque, IA: Wm. C. Brown Company Publishers.

Borror, D., D. De Long, C. Triplehorn. 1981. An Introduction to the Study of Insects. Philadelphia: CBS College Publishing.

Borror, D., R. White. 1970. Peterson Field Guides: Insects. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Eco-USA, 1999. "Comma: Polygonia comma" (On-line). Accessed 01/07/04 at

Majka, C. 2000. "Propagating Punctuation: Netting Commas Midst the Nettles" (On-line). Accessed April 15, 2000 at

Scott, J. 1986. The Butterflies of North America: A Natural History and Field Guide. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Struttmann, J. 2000. "Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma)" (On-line). Butterflies of North America. Accessed 01/11/05 at

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Brown, A. 2000. "Polygonia comma" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 24, 2024 at

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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