Comma (Polygonia c-album )
Medium-sized to large; wingspan, 50-60 mm.
Both sexes have irregularly scalloped wings with orange brown upper surfaces patterned with darker brown, yellow-brown and black spots and blotches. The under surfaces are a complexly patterned combination of darker browns which is most dense on the basal halves of each wing. The butterflys trademark, a bright white comma, is conspicuously displayed in the centre of the underside of each hind-wing.
The Comma is a fascinating butterfly. The scalloped edges and cryptic colouring of the wings conceal hibernating adults amongst dead leaves, while the larvae, flecked with brown and white markings, bear close resemblance to bird droppings.
The species has a flexible life cycle, which allows it to capitalize on favourable weather conditions. However, the most remarkable feature of the Comma has been its severe decline in the twentieth century and subsequent comeback. It is now widespread in southern Britain and its range is expanding northwards.
Behaviour and life history
The Comma is a solitary species, rarely seen with others of its kind, which ranges over quite large areas. It is often to be seen staking out its territory and vigorously defending it against intruders of all species. Its general flight can be rather irregular but, within its territory, it often displays graceful swooping glides. The Comma over-winters as an adult in woodlands, emerging in the Spring to lay its eggs in late April or early May. Some four weeks later the caterpillars pupate before emerging as adults in late June/July. A second brood is on the wing by late August/early September. Its preferred larval foodplant is the Common Nettle, Urtica dioica, although it may also be found feeding on elm trees, Ulmus spp.
Where to look for it
It is a butterfly of woodlands, hedgerows, overgrown field margins and sheltered gardens.
Distribution and status
Common and widespread
When to look for it
Adults are on the wing from March through to early May, in July, and from late August until October.
The scalloped edges of the wings and the comma on the underside of the hindwing are diagnostic although, from a distance, it can be confused with a fritillary but the latter are larger and have rounded wings