Family - NYMPHALIDAE
Tribe - NYMPHALINI
© Adrian Hoskins
genus Polygonia comprises 17 species,
found variously in North America, Europe, temperate Asia and north
Africa. There are 9 species found in North America.
genus the butterflies are instantly recognisable by their
characteristic ragged wing shape. Most species have a similar
upperside pattern of dark brown spots on a golden-orange ground
colour. On the undersides they are cryptically marked to resemble
dead leaves or tree bark, and have a white or silvery mark in the
centre of the hindwing - in c-album
this mark is shaped like a comma.
is found across most of Europe and temperate Asia to northern China,
Korea and Japan. It also occurs in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.
In spring Commas breed primarily in woodland edge
habitats where stinging nettles grow in damp
but sunny situations, typically in glades or at the side of grassy
summer adults are more mobile however, and
can breed in gardens, old quarries, along country lanes and railway
cuttings, on sheltered areas of scrubby grassland, and at coastal
habitats. They freely roam the countryside and can be found anywhere
where stinging nettles or elms grow but favour sunny sheltered sites
with bramble bushes nearby, and a profusion of wild flowers.
There are 2 generations each year. Larvae
hatching from eggs laid in early March by overwintered females
slowly, pupating in mid-June to produce
adults of the brightly marked hutchinsoni
emerge in early July
and remain on the wing until mid-August.
The overwintered adults
however remain alive until late spring and continue laying eggs
until mid-May. Larvae hatching from these later eggs develop more
slowly to produce normal adults which emerge in August. Meanwhile
the offspring of the hutchinsoni brood
produce another generation of normal adults which emerge in
September. In late summer it is possible to see both forms flying
together. The hutchinsoni adults die by
early September. The normal form adults enter hibernation and awaken
the following spring.
The green, ribbed eggs are laid singly, close to the edge on the
upperside of Urtica nettle leaves.
Commas normally oviposit on plants growing
in sheltered situations in sunny woodland glades or around field
edges. Other foodplants used include
Corylus and Ribes.
The fully grown caterpillar is unmistakable, being brownish black,
with orange spikes on the front segments, and a long splash of white
along the back. It often rests on the upper surface of a leaf,
adopting a semi-curled posture, and at a glance can be mistaken for
a bird dropping.
The chrysalis is marbled in shades of brown, and decorated with
spangles of silver and gold. They are usually
suspended from woody stems or shaded tree trunks.
© Adrian Hoskins
spring Commas occupy ride intersections and glades,
where they nectar
at blackthorn blossom,
sallow catkins and dandelions.
spend long periods basking on
leaf litter, bare ground,
bramble leaves or
bracken. It is also common to see them basking head-downward on fence
posts, or on the trunks of birch and ash trees.
establish territorial perches on twigs, logs or favoured
leaves which they use as
bases from which to launch flights to ambush other passing
Intruding male Commas and butterflies of other species including
and Orange tips
territory. Passing female
are intercepted, but I have
courtship ritual or found any mated pairs. Copulation reportedly takes
place high in the tree tops.
warm sunny days in spring, butterflies
frequently settle on paths,
tree stumps or wood shavings
Summer nectar sources include bramble, hemp agrimony, wild carrot,
In cool cloudy weather, Commas roost openly on foliage, and if
disturbed will feign death, falling to the ground, with their wings
closed, and their white legs tucked tightly against their bodies.
Towards dusk Commas
seek overnight roosting sites. One evening in early July 2009, I
watched a female settling down to roost - she spent 2 or 3 minutes
fluttering around on the shady side of an ivy covered fence, and
eventually settled for the night under an ivy leaf, resting on the
midrib, with head pointing towards the stem. On several occasions I
have found Commas roosting at ground level among grasses - in these
cases the butterflies always roost head-downward. The camouflage is
quite remarkable, giving the impression of a dead oak leaf that has
fallen onto the grass.
the butterflies nectar avidly at
buddleia, ragwort and fleabane in preparation for hibernation. The
feeding frenzy continues into September and October when they nectar
at ivy, and gorge themselves on sugary juices exuding from fermenting
In late October they seek out hibernation sites,
usually choosing to spend the winter months hiding
wood stacks, hollow tree trunks, or sometimes out in the open, hanging