Nymphalis l-albumCompton tortoiseshell(Also: false comma)

Geographic Range

The Comma or Compton Tortoise Shell Butterfly lives on three continents: North America, Europe, and Asia. It makes its habitat in wooded areas from the Canadian to Hudson Zone in North America. It has also been spotted from eastern Europe to Japan (Miller 1992, Scott 1986).


This butterfly lives in areas of deciduous or coniferous forests. It needs trees in order to hibernate under their bark. It also uses the trees' leaves to lay its eggs upon. The forest is a natural habitat for this species because of its appearance. It blends in perfectly with dry or dead leaves bathed in sunlight (Scott, 1986).

Physical Description

These insects, like all other insects, have six legs and a segmented body. All of the butterflies of the Nymphalis genus have adapted unique front legs. The front legs are hairy and brush-like. They no longer function as legs; but rather, are used in the cleaning of their antennae. When this animal is at rest, a predator can only see the underside of its wings. The edges of the wing are jagged and irregular. The underside of its wings look like a dead leaf because they are a gray-brown color. The wings will also often have small spots that makes the wing look like an insect-infested leaf. It also has a white J, L, or comma- shape near the posterior of the underside of the wing. This marking is where the name Comma Butterfly derives from. The top of its wings are a tawny orange color with three black patches and a spot of white near the front margin area. The wingspan of this insect is approximately 70mm (Klots and Klots, Arnett 1985).


The Compton Tortoise Shell Butterfly usually is seen flying from June to October. During the first part of this time, adults are mating. After sexual fertilization occurs, multiple eggs are laid by the female. This butterfly lies its eggs on the host tree in small clusters. Some of its hosts include: Betulacea, Salicacea, and Ulmacacea trees. The eggs hatch and produce caterpillars. These caterpillars eat leaves until they are ready for a change in their life cycle. They encase themselves in cocoons and emerge in October as adult butterflies (Grzimek 1972, Scott 1986).


This animal is a terrestrial insect. It spends its time flying around in search of food or in search of a mate. After a female is fertilized, she lays many eggs on the host plant. When the eggs hatch, caterpillars emerge. These caterpillars eventually metamorphisize from the larval to the adult stage of life. A cocoon is spun and after a couple of weeks, the butterfly emerges from its protective covering. The butterfly must wait for a short period of time near the cocoon while its wings dry. Waiting there leaves the butterfly particularly vulnerable. The metamorphosis of the order Lepidoptera is thought to decrease competition for food between the larval and adult stage. This decrease in competition increases the Compton Tortoise Shell butterfly's chance for survival. When it is time for hibernation, these animals find a hole in a barn or tree to hibernate in for the winter. During the winter months, they can also hang among dead leaves if available because of their camoflauged appearance (Arnett 1985).

Food Habits

This butterfly can consume a variety of foods while in its adult stage. It can suck up the juices of rotting fruit, the nectar of willow flowers, or even sap from a nearby tree. To eat these liquids, the butterfly uses a modified mouth part that curls up when not in use. When it uses the mouth part, the mouth part unfurls and sucks up the juices. In its larval stage, the Compton Tortoise Shell caterpillar consumes the leaves of willow, popular, or birch trees. This difference in food choice along with the separation in time for the adult and larval stages greatly increases the butterfly's survival chances (Struttman 1997, Arnett 1985).

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Butterflies are important pollinators. Also, butterfly watching has become an important nature activity.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

The larval stage of this animal eats the leaves off of willow, popular, and birch trees. These animals can damage the trees if they become too abundant. Even though this does not pose a serious threat at the moment, a large number of caterpillars could damage the forests that many of our resources come from (Struttman 1997).

Conservation Status

This insect is fairly common throughout its habitat. Although it might be rare along the edges of its range, the need for conservation is minimal if that (Struttman 1997).

Other Comments

Photographs of this butterfly can be viewed at the website that I listed in my references. I believe that its use of camoflauge has aided in its survival and its increased frequency in recent years. The success of this butterfly along with all other insects can be attributed to the use of flight to search for food, and jointed appendages for added mobility.


Bryan Pickett (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


living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

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.


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


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

native range

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


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

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

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

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

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

Struttmann, J. July 24, 1997. "Butterflies of North America" (On-line). Accessed February 24, 2000 at http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/distr/lepid/bflyusa/pa/183.htm.