Comma Butterfly

Neil Bygrave (NATURELENS)

Exeter, United Kingdom

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Comma Butterfly – Polygonia c-album. Devon, UK

Canon 50D
Canon 300mm F4 IS plus 1.4 x Extender and Canon Extension Tube EF 25 II
ISO 250
AV Mode, Evaluative Metering dialed to -2/3

Text adapted from –

The Comma is thought to have been a common species in the 18th century, but declined and became a great rarity between about 1850 and 1910. Thereafter numbers gradually recovered, and the butterfly can currently be regarded as a common species in southern Britain.

The butterfly gets its vernacular and species names from the C or comma-shaped silver mark on the underside of the hindwings. There are no similar species in Britain, but there are closely related species elsewhere in the holarctic region, including the Southern Comma of the Mediterranean area, and the Question Mark and Anglewings of North America.

There are 2 generations of the Comma each year. In February or March the butterflies awaken from hibernation. Some of the progeny from eggs laid in April feed up quickly to produce the brightly marked hutchinsoni brood in early July. Others feed up more slowly and produce darker adults with more angular wings, which emerge in August. The progeny of the hutchinsoni brood feed up very quickly, producing more of the dark, angular adults, which emerge slightly later, in September. In late September or early October, the butterflies enter hibernation.

Form: hutchinsoni

This form constitutes approximately two fifths of the summer generation, where the most noticeable characteristic is that individuals are much paler than generation that overwinters.

The main foodplant is Common Nettle (Urtica dioica), however Currants (various) (Ribes spp.), Elms (various) (Ulmus spp.), Hop (Humulus lupulus) and Willows (various) (Salix spp.) are also used.

This is primarily a woodland species, but the summer adults are fairly mobile, and can also be found in country lanes, old quarries, along railway cuttings, in gardens, on sheltered areas of scrubby grassland, and at coastal habitats.

The green, ribbed eggs are laid singly, close to the edge on the upperside of stinging nettle leaves. The butterflies usually oviposit on nettles growing in smallish clumps in sunny woodland glades, or in the vicinity of hedgerows. Egglaying sites are always close to nectar sources such as blackthorn ( in spring ) or bramble blossom ( in summer ). Less commonly the butterflies will oviposit on leaves of English elm sucker growth, and more rarely on young growth of wych elm.

The fully grown larva is unmistakeable, 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 easily be mistaken for a bird dropping.

The chrysalis is marbled in shades of brown, decorated with small silver and gold markings. Sometimes very dark pupae can be found, but these always turn out to be parasitised.

In spring Commas occupy ride intersections and glades, and often nectar at blackthorn blossom. They spend long periods basking on the ground, on logs, on bramble leaves, or on dead bracken. It is also common to see them basking head-downwards, on fence posts, or on the trunks of birch and other trees. Males occupy territories, and establish perches on twigs, or on a favoured leaf, which act as vantage points. Intruding male Commas, and butterflies of certain other species including Peacocks, are always ousted by the “owner” of the territory.

Summer brood Commas often perch on hazel bushes or bracken, and intercept intruding Gatekeepers and Speckled Woods. On warm sunny days the butterflies frequently settle on paths to imbibe dissolved minerals. In cool cloudy weather, they 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. Summer nectar sources include bramble, hemp agrimony, marjoram, wild carrot, traveller’s joy and thistles.

In early autumn the butterflies congregate to feed at fermenting blackberries prior to hibernation. They spend the winter months hidden in wood stacks, hollow tree trunks, or sometimes out in the open, hanging beneath branches.

Artwork Comments

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