Question Mark Butterfly
July 30, 2009
Dear Bugman: Due in part to our unusually cool and damp summer, we have not seen very many butterflies in our gardens this year. Today, this very welcome & docile Question Mark Butterfly was feasting on our Black Knight buddleia. It was very cooperative, as I took over 20 photos. It then flew over to our blue spruce and rested there for some time. This is the first Question Mark we have seen in our gardens, and judging from the tears and scratches on it’s wings, this butterfly has had a rough go of it. One photo shows the underside of it’s wings, where you can clearly see the small white question mark, for which it is named. The other photo shows how fuzzy and very dark this one’s hind wings are. Another picture on your site shows a Question Mark that loo ks much lighter and more patterned on it’s hind wings. Is there a difference between the colors of the males and females, or is it just due to regional population differences?
P.S.: Kudos to you and your wonderful WTB? site. My family and I use it and browse through it almost every day. WTB? is the first resource we turn to when trying to identify bugs, and we have it bookmarked as a “Favorite” site.
An Avid Butterfly Friendly Gardener
Allen Park, MI
Dear Avid Butterfly Friendly Gardener,
Thanks for sending us your wonderful photographs of a Question Mark, Polygonia interrogationis. The closed wing view beautifully illustrates the silvery punctuation mark that gives this species both its common and scientific names. The dark coloration signifies that this is a summer Question Mark. According to the Butterflies and Moths of North America website: “Life history: Males find females by perching on leaves or tree trunks in the afternoon, flying to chase other insects and even birds. Females lay eggs singly or stacked under leaves of plants that are usually not the hosts. Caterpillars must find a host plant; they then eat leaves and live alone. Adults of the winter form hibernate; some staying in the north, many migrating to the south.
Flight: Overwintered adults fly and lay eggs in the spring until the end of May. The summer form emerges and flies from May-September, laying eggs that develop into the winter form; these adults appear in late August and spend the winter in various shelters.“ The site also indicates that adults feed on “Rotting fruit, tree sap, dung, carrion. Only when these are unavailable do Question Marks visit flowers such as common milkweed, aster, and sweet pepperbush.”