Posts Tagged ‘Polygonia interrogationis’


When I wrote my last post, Then and Now, I wanted a photograph of a Question Mark butterfly to compare its marking to those of the Eastern Comma. I haven’t noticed any Question Marks this year, and had to dig into the archives to come up with a photo of a Question Mark.

That same afternoon, as I walked through the garden, I encountered … you guessed it… a Question Mark! Not just any Question Mark, either, but a real beauty! Many of the butterflies you encounter in the garden look battle weary, with tattered wings. Some have V-shaped snips missing from their wings, the sign of a close encounter with a hungry bird. This Question Mark was perfect, with a gorgeous silver edging outlining its shining russet wings.

Question Marks (Polygonia interrogationis) have a darker summer form and a lighter, more orangey winter form. This butterfly is a wonderful example of the latter. The underwing is also lighter. You can see the difference if you compare the photograph below to that of the Question Mark pictured in ‘Then and Now’.

Question Marks have two broods in a season. Second-brood adults such as this butterfly hibernate and fly again in the spring. Some Question Marks migrate to warmer regions to overwinter.


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Butterflies find the hydrangea bush very attractive too. I spotted four species visiting the hydrangea flowers. One was the little crescent butterfly pictured above, who is shown perched on a brick surface near the bush. It is likely a Northern Crescent (Phyciodes cocyta), but could be a Pearl Crescent (P. tharos). The two species are difficult to differentiate. The Northern may be a bit larger and have fewer black markings, leaving orange areas more open. Both are small butterflies, with rounded forewings. Their preferred larval foodplants are asters.

A number of Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis) butterflies were visiting the shrub. On the under surface of the hindwing, you can see the small silvery marking for which this species is named, a curving comma and a white dot. The silhouette of the closed wings also demonstrates the source of a common name for these butterflies: anglewings.

This individual looked a little battered and tattered, but still very pretty. Question Marks fly spring through fall. There are two broods, and the second-brood adults hibernate and mate in the spring. It’s amazing to think of these seemingly delicate creatures surviving the winter.

The Viceroy (Limenitis archippus) is well-known as a mimic of the Monarch butterfly. It was once thought that the Viceroy gained protection by mimicking the noxious Monarch, but it is now believed that the Viceroy may also be distasteful to some predators itself. The Viceroy is smaller than the Monarch, and can be readily distinguished from the larger butterfly by the black band that crosses its mid-hindwing. The Monarch’s larval foodplant is milkweed, while Viceroy larvae dine on willows, and sometimes poplars or other trees.

White Admirals (Limenitis arthemis) are closely related to Viceroys. Like Viceroys, their larval plantfoods include willows, poplars and birches. While Question Marks hibernate as adults, White Admiral caterpillars born late in the summer use silk to roll up a leaf to hibernate in until spring. The white hydrangea flowers make a perfect backdrop for these beauties.

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