North American Range
Similar in marking, habitat preference and behavior, the Eastern Comma can be difficult to differentiate from other Polygonia. This large, frenetic butterfly does, however, have some distinguishing characteristics that allow it to stand out. In the past, the Eastern Comma was referred to as the Hop Merchant by local Hops farmers who used the silver and gold marking of their pupa to predict how well their crops would sell; the more gold markings, the more lucrative the season was expected to be. Males tend to be incredibly aggressive when patrolling for females and are reported to attempt to chase away birds as well as other insects. Older caterpillars form daytime shelters by pulling leaves around themselves and securing it with silk. Adults overwinter and are some of the first worn butterflies seen in spring.
Usually smaller than the Question Mark with short hindwing projections. Forewing above is brownish-orange with dark spots; one dark spot at center of bottom edge. Hindwing above has two patterns: summer form is mostly black, winter form is orange with black spots; both have a dark border containing pale spots. Underside is brown; hindwing with a central silver or white comma which is swollen at both ends.
Found early in the spring and one of the last butterflies seen in the fall. Overwintered adults fly and lay eggs in the spring until the end of April. The summer form emerges and flies from May through September, laying eggs that develop into the winter form. These adults appear in September or October and soon seek shelter in which to overwinter. They are found in greatest abundance from the end of June through the end of July. Extreme dates: 31 March 2005 in Grand Isle (D. Hoag) and 22 October 2007 in Dummerston (K. Hemeon).
Distribution and Habitat
Found throughout Vermont during VBS. Unlike the Question Mark, they prefer woods and open areas near water but will utilize disturbed habitats, especially during migration. Host plants include all members of the elm and nettle families including American Elm (Ulmus americana), Hops (Humulus), nettle (Urtica), and Wood Nettle (Laportea canadensis). Adults rarely visit flowers, instead preferring rotting fruit and tree sap.