“Punctuation” Butterflies: Commas and the Question Mark

One of my favorite groups of butterflies are known as the “Anglewings” due to their interesting wing shapes, reflected in

One of my favorite groups of butterflies are known as the “Anglewings” due to their interesting wing shapes, reflected in the genus name Polygonia. This genus is also known collectively as the “Commas” because of the white marking on their underwings, as you can see on this Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma).

With their wings closed, these butterflies look a little drab but you can see the markings that give them their name. With their wings open they show gorgeous orange coloration – this one is a Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis).

The Question Mark’s name – both common and scientific – is obvious when you see the underwing:

Question Marks are found mainly in the eastern half of the country, but there are comma species from coast to coast. In the eastern part of the country, look for Eastern Commas (Polygonia comma) and Gray Commas (Polygonia progne). In the west, you’ll see Hoary Commas (Polygonia gracilis) and Satyr Commas (Polygonia satyrus). They all look very similar and are instantly recognizable with their sharp wing angles, bright orange coloration on top, and drab underwings with comma markings.

As for luring these butterflies to your own garden, the most important thing to know is that this genus of butterflies is rarely found nectaring from flowers. Instead, they prefer to drink tree sap or feed from rotting fruit. You’ll see these butterflies more frequently in wooded areas, as their caterpillars host almost exclusively on trees. To draw them to your yard, you can try leaving out very ripe or even rotting fruit like bananas or oranges (place them in a shallow dish of water to keep ants off).

Do you see any of the “punctuation” butterflies in your own butterfly garden? What are they feeding on? Tell us in the comments below!

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Jill Staake
Jill lives in Tampa, Florida, and writes about gardening, butterflies, outdoor projects and birding. When she's not gardening, you'll find her reading, traveling and happily digging her toes into the sand on the beach.