Punctuation Butterflies: Comma and Question Mark

I have long been fascinated by the fact that some butterflies are named after punctuation marks. Two of these are found in Eliza Howell Park every year: Eastern Comma and Question Mark.

Eastern Comma

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Question Mark

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It can be quite challenging to tell the difference between E. Comma and Question Mark in the field, even with binoculars.

They usually perch with their wings open, but the names come from underwing markings visible only when the wings are closed.

E. Comma has a light colored mark shaped like a comma – or a “c” – on its side.

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The light-colored mark on a Question Mark is followed by a separate dot. Apparently this reminded someone of a question mark, probably someone who was already thinking of punctuation.

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One way of identifying which is which when the wings are open is to count the dark wing spots on a portion of the wing.

A Comma has three spots basically in a line behind the larger mark at the front. A Question Mark has a fourth mark a little more forward. In the next 2 pictures I have used yellow dots to indicate this difference.

Eastern Comma

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Question Mark

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Both these butterflies overwinter as adults; that is, they hibernate. Consequently, they are among the earliest to appear in the spring.

The butterfly group is known as “Anglewings” because of the shape of their wings.

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It has been an enjoyable part of my Eliza Howell butterfly watching to get to know the punctuation butterflies better. I hope others have a similar opportunity.

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