Polygonia progne

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Geographic Range

Polygonia progne lives on the North American continent. It makes its habitat in the Northwestern Territories of the US and Eastern British Columbia. It ranges from the west along the Pacific Coast to central California. It can be found in the East through southern Canada, and the northern United States from Maine south to the Appalachians in North Carolina. It is also found in the southeast from Montana and the Dakotas to eastern Nebraska and central Kansas. (Miller, 1992; Scott, 1986)

Habitat

These butterflies live mainly in woodland or mountainous areas. They are predominantly found in the Coastal Redwood Forest and the Hudsonian Zone Woodlands. They can be found along dirt roads, streamsides, and within clearings in rich deciduous or coniferous woods. Often these areas are in hilly terrain or canyons. (Scott, 1986)

Physical Description

Polygonia progne, like all insects, has six legs and a segmented body. Its front legs are hairy and brush-like and are used for cleaning its antennae. The undersides of its wings are a charcoal gray with fine dark striations. When its wings are raised, the butterfly looks like a dead leaf and is camouflaged from predators. The upperside of the wing is a bright orange-brown. Its hindwings have a wide dark border covering about 1/4 of the wing. The border encloses a few small yellow spots. The wingspan of this insect is approximately 50 mm. (Arnett, 1985)

  • Average wingspan
    50 mm
    1.97 in

Development

The adult butterfly lays eggs on the leaves of gooseberries and azaleas. The eggs hatch into larval caterpillars. These caterpillars eat leaves, then build a cocoon and go into hibernation. The caterpillar emerges from hibernation as an adult butterfly. (Grzimek, 1972)

Reproduction

Grey comma butterflies are most often seen flying from April to May. It is during this time that adults are searching for mates. Males perch in the afternoon sun on shrubs and small trees, watching for females. When a female is spotted, the male forces it to land. Once the female has landed the male will flutter over her and try to mate. If the female lowers its wings the male will land on top of her and mate. If the female flies away or will not lower her wings the male will leave in search on a new mate. After fertilization occurs, the female will lay multiple eggs singly on the leaves of gooseberries and azaleas. The eggs hatch and produce caterpillars. These caterpillars eat leaves until they have stored enough food to survive their metamorphosis. They then encase themselves in cocoons and emerge in October as adult butterflies. (Grzimek, 1972; Scott, 1986)

  • Breeding season
    April to May

Behavior

Grey commas emerge from their eggs as larval caterpillars. Caterpillars do nothing but feed on leaves until it has stored enough food for metamorphosis. A caterpillar then spins a cocoon and begins its metamorphosis. It emerges as a butterfly sometime around October. The butterfly feeds on tree sap and flower nectar for the next two to three weeks. It then finds a place to hibernate for the remainder of winter. Once winter is over the butterfly comes out of hibernation in search of food. In April and May the mating season begins and males spend their time in search of a mate. After mating the butterflies prepare for hibernation. (Arnett, 1985; Miller, 1992)

Food Habits

While in its adult stage, grey commas feeds mainly on tree sap and flower nectar. They use a modified sucker tube (proboscis) as a mouth to suck up the juices of plants and trees. The butterfly uncoils its proboscis to drink its food and then curls the tube back up when it is not in use. In the larval stage, the caterpillar rarely travels from the plant where it is born, so it feeds mainly on the leaves of gooseberries and azaleas. (Arnett, 1985; Struttmann, 1997)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • nectar
  • sap or other plant fluids

Predation

When the wings are raised, and the undersides are exposed, the adult butterfly resembles a dead leaf.

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Adult butterflies are important pollinators, and caterpillars damage teh foliage of the plants they eat. These butterflies are also likely eaten by other organisms.

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • pollinates

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Butterflies are important pollinators. Also, butterfly watching has become a hobby for many nature lovers.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

The larval stage of the Grey Comma butterfly eats the leaves off of gooseberries and azaleas, a behavior which can damage these plants if they become too abundant.

Conservation Status

Grey commas are currently widespread and abundant and therefore are not considered threatened.

Contributors

Matthew Wund (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Chris Power (author), Southwestern University, Stephanie Fabritius (editor), Southwestern University.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

cryptic

having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
ecotourism

humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.

ectothermic

animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

folivore

an animal that mainly eats leaves.

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

heterothermic

having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.

hibernation

the state that some animals enter during winter in which normal physiological processes are significantly reduced, thus lowering the animal's energy requirements. The act or condition of passing winter in a torpid or resting state, typically involving the abandonment of homoiothermy in mammals.

metamorphosis

A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

mountains

This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nectarivore

an animal that mainly eats nectar from flowers

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

References

Arnett, R. 1985. American Insects. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company.

Grzimek, 1972. Animal Life Encyclopedia vol.2. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company.

Klots, A. 1981. Living Insects of the World. New York: Doubleday & Company.

Miller, 1992. The Common Names of North American Butterflies. Washington: Smithsonian Institution.

Scott, 1986. The Butterflies of North America. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Struttmann, J. 1997. "Butterflies of North America" (On-line). Accessed September 26, 2001 at http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/distr/lepid/bflyusa/usa/212.htm.