Polygonia interrogationis

Geographic Range

Polygonia interrogationis, commonly known as question mark butterflies, are found in the eastern United States and Canada. The range stretches from southern Canada south to Florida. This range stretches west to Arizona, Wyoming, and Colorado. They also occur in Mexico. ("Question Mark — Polygonia interrogationis.", 2021)


Question mark butterflies prefer areas with trees and some open space, such as riparian woodlands, city parks, suburbs, and agricultural areas. Question marks are often found in moist areas. This species is semi-migratory; some individuals travel south for the winter. ("A Host-Parasite Catalog of North American Tachinidae (Diptera)", 1978; Hall, 2021)

Physical Description

Question mark butterflies have a wingspan of about 5.2-6.4 cm. Their wings are bright orange towards the top and deep black at the bottoms. The orange portion has irregularly shaped black-brown spots scattered across it. The underside of their wings is made of a brown, tan, near-black, and partially iridescent camouflage. The edges of the wings have a ragged, irregular appearance. ("Question Mark — Polygonia interrogationis.", 2021; Peterson, 1970; Petr and Stewart, 2004)

The forewing of question mark butterflies has a hook. The upper side of their wings is reddish-orange in color with black spots. The underside of the forewing is a tannish-light brown. The underside of the hindwing has an iridescent white question mark in the middle. The upper side hindwing of summer type has a short tail and is mostly black. The upper side hindwing of the winter type is orange in color and a longer tail with a violet tip. Both sexes are similar. ("A Host-Parasite Catalog of North American Tachinidae (Diptera)", 1978; Peterson, 1970)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range wingspan
    5.2 to 6.4 cm
    2.05 to 2.52 in


Caterpillars emerge from eggs. They grow and develop, going through various stages of growth. Larvae go through metamorphosis to become adults. Some question marks go through diapause during the winter. ("Question Mark — Polygonia interrogationis.", 2021; Wunderlin, et al., 2021)


Males find mates by waiting on leaves or trees in the afternoon. They chase other insects and even birds in their search for a female. They utilize seasonal breeding. Female question mark butterflies lay eggs singly or stacked. They prefer to lay eggs under the leaves of plants that are usually not the hosts. ("A Host-Parasite Catalog of North American Tachinidae (Diptera)", 1978; Wunderlin, et al., 2021)

Question mark butterflies do not utilize parental investment.

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement


Question marks live for only a few months. There are typically two generations per year. (Hall, 2021)


Caterpillars find a host plant shortly after hatching. They eat the leaves of the host plant and live by themselves. Larvae prefer to stay near their host plants. ("Question Mark — Polygonia interrogationis.", 2021; Wunderlin, et al., 2021)

Two generations of question mark butterflies occur each year. One of these generations happens during the summer, the "umbrosa" form, which can be found from late June until August. The fall generation, the "fabricii", appears from late August until October. Some individual question marks of the fall type may overwinter as adults. Most, however, migrate south for the winter and return in spring. Overwintered adult question mark butterflies lay eggs in the spring. The summer type lays eggs that develop into the fall type. The adults of the fall type show up in late August. These are the question marks that overwinter or migrate south. ("A Host-Parasite Catalog of North American Tachinidae (Diptera)", 1978; "Question Mark — Polygonia interrogationis.", 2021; Wunderlin, et al., 2021)

Question marks are active during the day. Larvae crawl to move around and adults fly. ("Question Mark — Polygonia interrogationis.", 2021)

Communication and Perception

Question mark butterflies communicate through chemical methods. They perceive their environment through visual, chemical, and tactile methods. They are able to see UV light.

Food Habits

When available, question mark butterflies feed on rotting fruit, tree sap, dung, and carrion. Only when these foods are unavailable do question mark butterflies visit flowers such as common milkweed, aster, and sweet pepperbush. Larvae eat woody and non-woody plants. ("Question Mark — Polygonia interrogationis.", 2021; Petr and Stewart, 2004)

  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • fruit
  • nectar
  • sap or other plant fluids
  • Other Foods
  • dung


Question marks are cryptid. The undersides of their wings are camouflaged and resemble dead leaves. This allows them to hide from predators. (Hall, 2021)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Question mark butterflies are significant pollinators. While traveling from one host plant to the next, they carry and exchange pollen. Larvae are parasitized by six species of tachinid fly and at least five species of hymenoptera. (Petr and Stewart, 2004)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • pollinates

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Like other butterflies. question marks are pollinators of a variety of plants.

  • Positive Impacts
  • pollinates crops

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Larvae of question marks can damage crops. ("Question Mark — Polygonia interrogationis.", 2021; Petr and Stewart, 2004)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

Questionmark butterflies are not currently undergoing conservation efforts.


Deena Hauze (author), Animal Diversity Web Staff.



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


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

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.


flesh of dead animals.


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.


a period of time when growth or development is suspended in insects and other invertebrates, it can usually only be ended the appropriate environmental stimulus.

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

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


union of egg and spermatozoan


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


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


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.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


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.


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).

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


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


lives alone


living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.


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.


living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.


uses sight to communicate


United States Department of Agriculture. A Host-Parasite Catalog of North American Tachinidae (Diptera). Miscellaneous Publication 1319. Washington D.C.: United States Department of Agriculture. 1978.

Montana Natural Heritage Program. 2021. "Question Mark — Polygonia interrogationis." (On-line). Montana Field Guide. Accessed March 10, 2021 at http://fieldguide.mt.gov/speciesDetail.aspx?elcode=IILEPK5010.

Hall, D. 2021. "common name: question mark scientific name: Polygonia interrogationis (Fabricius) (Insecta: Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae: Nymphalinae)" (On-line). Featured Creatures Entomology & Nematology. Accessed March 31, 2021 at http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/bfly/bfly2/question_mark.htm.

Peterson, A. 1970. Eggs from Miscellaneous Species of Rhopalocera-Lepidoptera. The Florida Entomologist, 53(2): 65-67.

Petr, D., K. Stewart. 2004. Comparative Morphology of Sensilla Styloconica on the Proboscis of North American Nymphalidae and Other Selected Taxa (Lepidoptera): Systematic and Ecological Considerations. Transactions of the American Entomological Society (1890-), 130(4): pp. 293-409. Accessed March 11, 2021 at https://www.jstor.org/stable/25078861.

Wunderlin, R., B. Hansen, A. Franck, F. Essig. 2021. Atlas of Florida Plants. Tampa, Florida.: University of South Florida. Accessed March 11, 2021 at http://florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/.