Polygonia comma

Geographic Range

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)


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

Physical Description

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)


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)


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)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

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


  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic
  • Known Predators

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

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)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

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)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

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


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



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.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


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.


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


union of egg and spermatozoan


an animal that mainly eats leaves.


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


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


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.


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.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

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


active during the night


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


chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).


offspring are all produced in a single group (litter, clutch, etc.), after which the parent usually dies. Semelparous organisms often only live through a single season/year (or other periodic change in conditions) but may live for many seasons. In both cases reproduction occurs as a single investment of energy in offspring, with no future chance for investment in reproduction.


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


lives alone


a wetland area that may be permanently or intermittently covered in water, often dominated by woody vegetation.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


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 http://www.eco-usa.net/fauna/comma.shtml.

Majka, C. 2000. "Propagating Punctuation: Netting Commas Midst the Nettles" (On-line). Accessed April 15, 2000 at http://reseau.chebucto.ns.ca/Environment/NHR/comma.html.

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 http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/distr/lepid/bflyusa/usa/205.htm.