Eastern Comma: All You Need to Know for Butterfly Enthusiasts

The eastern comma is a fascinating butterfly species native to North America, known for its distinct wing pattern and unique seasonal appearance. A member of the Nymphalidae family, this butterfly showcases a beautiful blend of orange and black hues on its dorsal side, setting it apart from its close relative, the question mark butterfly, which has a hyphen-like line over its three black forewing spots source.

Seasonal variation plays a significant role in the appearance of eastern commas. During the summer, the dorsal hindwing of the butterfly tends to have a more pronounced dark smudge in the center, which is missing in its gray comma counterpart source. As you venture into the world of eastern commas, you’ll discover the captivating aspects of this intriguing species and immerse yourself in all there is to know about this remarkable butterfly.

Eastern Comma Overview

Species and Appearance

The Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma) is a beautiful butterfly species, known for its distinct orange, brown, and black coloration. Here are some of its characteristics:

  • Orange-brown wings with black spots
  • Darker markings on the hind wings
  • Whitish, small white curving “comma” mark on the underside

Another species to note is the Greenish-brown Comma (Polygonia progne), displaying mottled gray and brown colors.

Wingspan and Identifying Features

Eastern Commas have a wingspan between 4.5 to 6.4 centimeters. Identifying features include:

  • Ragged wing edges with ridges
  • Dark spot present in forewing cell
  • Fine point and narrows in the white comma mark
  • Dark outer edge with black chevrons

Eastern Comma vs Question Mark and Other Similar Species

Eastern Comma can be distinguished from the Question Mark (Polygonia interrogationis) by its comma-shaped mark. Here’s a comparison table to clarify the differences:

Feature Eastern Comma Question Mark
Mark Shape Hyphen-like line L-shaped
Black Forewing Spots Pattern varies Four consistent spots
Hindwing Pattern Heavily striated Finely streaked

Similar species include the Gray Comma, which has gray wings and black forewing spots.

Habitat and Range

The Eastern Comma can be found throughout North America, specifically in Southern Canada and parts of the United States. Their habitat includes:

  • Woodlands
  • Forest edges
  • Wetlands

In general, Eastern Commas exhibit fascinating beauty and can be easily recognized by their unique appearance and “comma” mark.

Life Cycle

Eggs and Larvae

The life cycle of the Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma) begins with the female butterfly laying tiny, greenish-yellow eggs on host plants. When the eggs hatch, the larvae emerge, which are small and dark-colored with a spiky appearance.

  • Features of eastern comma eggs and larvae:
    • Greenish-yellow eggs
    • Small, spiky, dark-colored larvae


As the larvae grow, they become Eastern Comma caterpillars. These caterpillars are interesting in appearance: they have branches on their body, giving them a unique textured look. The primary source of food for Eastern Comma caterpillars is the leaves of various plants, including nettles, hops, and elms.

  • Characteristics of Eastern Comma caterpillars:
    • Branch-like structures on their body
    • Feed on plant leaves (nettles, hops, elms)


After going through several molts, the caterpillars form a chrysalis. Inside their secure cocoon, they undergo a metamorphosis and emerge as adult Eastern Comma butterflies.

Adult Eastern Commas have a lifespan of around four weeks. They have been observed to have two separate flight seasons: one in late spring, and another in late summer/early fall.

  • Pros of being a butterfly:

    • Capable of flight
    • Beautiful appearance and unique pattern
  • Cons of being a butterfly:

    • Short lifespan (around 4 weeks)
    • Vulnerable to predation and harsh environmental conditions

Comparison between Eastern Comma caterpillars and butterflies:

Feature Caterpillars Butterflies
Appearance Branch-like structures on the body Unique wing patterns
Primary Food Plant leaves (nettles, hops, elms) Nectar, tree sap, rotting fruit
Mode of Movement Crawling Flight

The Eastern Comma butterfly’s life cycle is a fascinating example of nature’s adaptability and transformation. The insects progress through different stages, each displaying unique characteristics and features that help them survive and thrive in their environment.

Feeding and Survival Techniques

Host Plants and Nectar Sources

The Eastern Comma butterfly is a colorful species found in wild habitats such as forests. They primarily feed on tree sap and nectar from various flowers. Their host plants include:

  • Wild gooseberry (Ribes missouriensis)
  • Other plant species in the Ribes genus

Eastern Comma butterflies also consume fermented fruit and animal droppings, providing essential nutrients for their survival.

Predators and Defense Mechanisms

Eastern Comma butterflies face various predators, especially birds. Their defense mechanisms help them evade these predators:

  • Camouflage: Eastern Comma butterflies have a unique pattern on their wings, helping them blend into their surroundings.
  • Wing shape: The butterfly’s distinct “comma” shape on the wing underside confuses predators, making it harder for them to spot the butterfly.

Below is a comparison table of Eastern Comma butterflies and a similar species in terms of their feeding and survival techniques:

Feature Eastern Comma Similar Species
Host plants Wild gooseberry, plants in Ribes genus Varies depending on the species
Nectar sources Tree sap, flowers, fruit, animal droppings Mostly flowers
Predators Birds Birds, other insects, spiders
Defense mechanisms Camouflage, wing shape Camouflage, mimicking other species

In summary, the Eastern Comma butterfly has specific host plants and nectar sources that support its feeding and survival. This butterfly species has unique defense mechanisms to protect itself from predators, such as birds. By understanding their habitat preferences, host plants, and survival techniques, we can appreciate the ecological role of the Eastern Comma butterfly in our natural environment.

Commas in Language and Literature

Punctuation Marks and Comma Rules

Commas are essential punctuation marks that create a pause in a sentence. Their primary function is to provide clarity and improve readability. Some essential comma rules are:

  • Use commas after introductory clauses, phrases, or words
  • Separate items in a list with commas
  • Set off non-essential information with commas

For example:

Introductory phrase: After the rain stopped, we went for a walk.
List: She bought apples, bananas, and oranges at the store.
Non-essential information: My dog, a golden retriever, loves to swim.

The Oxford Comma and Other Types of Commas

The Oxford comma or serial comma is used before the coordinating conjunction (usually ‘and’ or ‘or’) in a list of three or more items.

With Oxford comma: I love apples, oranges, and bananas.
Without Oxford comma: I love apples, oranges and bananas.

Other comma types include:

  • The appositive comma: Surrounds an appositive, which renames or clarifies a noun. Example: My sister, a doctor, works in a hospital.
  • The contrastive comma: Indicates contrast between parts of a sentence. Example: I want a salad, not a burger.

Here’s a comparison table:

Comma Type Example
Oxford I love apples, oranges, and bananas.
Appositive My sister, a doctor, works in a hospital.
Contrastive I want a salad, not a burger.

Commas in Poems and Literary Works

Commas play a significant role in poems and literary works by:

  • Indicating a pause
  • Organizing and structuring sentences
  • Emphasizing emotions

For example:

In a poem: “Do not go gentle into that good night, / Old age should burn and rave at close of day; / Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” – Dylan Thomas

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Eastern Comma


Is this a question mark butterfly
Location: Nashville
May 8, 2012 4:04 pm
We found this in Nashville, TN. We think it might be a question mark butterfly? Can you confirm?
Signature: Jovie

Eastern Comma

Hi Jovie,
Though it closely resembles a Questionmark, we believe this is a different punctuation mark butterfly, more specifically an Eastern Comma,
Polygonia comma, which you can find on BugGuide.  Here is a description of the difference between the two species, also from BugGuide:  “Similar to the Question Mark, but smaller, and usually less common. Occurs in similar habitats. ‘Comma’ mark on lower hind wing is large, often a little curved, and hooked at least on one end (usually both); only very rarely is it divided (if so, usually on ‘plain’ females). On some other species the mark is ‘L’-shaped and not hooked, and on Question Mark it is usually devided into a large and small portion to make the ‘question mark’ it is named for. On upper forewing of Question Mark, there is a row of four dark ‘postmedian’ spots, but only three in the Comma and other Polygonia species. Ragged edge of hindwing is distinctive compared to Question Mark, where hindwing is fairly straight. Both species have winter and summer forms, with the lighter form overwintering and seen flying mostly in autumn and spring and the darker form mostly seen in summer (some individuals fly at the wrong time or are intermediate in coloring though).”

Thanks very much!  You are really helping with my “bug journal” project!  I have a few more that we don’t know for sure but my mom and I are gonna try to keep looking first.
age 6

You are most welcome Jovie.  We are happy we were able to assist.

Letter 2 – Comma, but which one?


‘Green Comma" butterfly
Hey Bugman!
I took my camera and rode my bike on a trail here in Charlotte, NC. on April 9, 2008. I was specifically looking for butterflies. I happened to spot this one sunning itself. It’s not a perfect specimen. When I got home and looked it up in "Field Guide to Butterflies of North America" by Kaufman. The closest I could come to identifying it was a "Green Comma." I couldn’t get a profile picture of it. I looked at the geographical location as shown in this book and it doesn’t really show it flying this far south. Is this rare to find this one in North Carolina? Anxiously awaiting your reply,
Patrick Crone

Hi Patrick,
We are afraid we may not be much help. We agree this is one of the Comma Butterfies in the genus Polygonia, but we are not sure which one. Have you eliminated the possibility of it being an Eastern Comma, Polygonia comma? there is an image posted to BugGuide with a similar spot pattern. The much rarer Green Comma, Polygonia faunus, has been reported as far south as Georgia according to the Butterflies and Moths of North America website, so you are in the range. We don’t feel qualified to give an exact species identification on your specimen.

Thanks for your quick reply. After looking more closely at the winter form of the “Eastern Comma”, I believe that is what it is instead of a “Green Comma.” It would have been nice if I could have gotten a profile picture of it. I tried to look on your web site yesterday and there were no pictures available. I will try again later.
Patrick Crone

Letter 3 – Comma from England


Ed. Note:  The following arrived to a private email account of the editorial staff of WTB?

Subject:  Comma Butterfly?
Location:  Hampshire, England
August 2, 2016
Saw this lovely creature in Hampshire, England a few days ago.
Is it a Comma?

Entomologist Julian Donahue responds
That’s the right genus (Polygonia), but I’m not up to speed on British butterflies. Check out the U.K. group I suggested on Facebook.


Dearest Clare,
As Julian indicated, your butterfly is in the same genus as the North American Eastern Comma,
Polygonia comma, which you can read about on BugGuide.  According to UK Butterflies, your Comma, Polygonia c-album, “is now a familiar sight throughout most of England and Wales and is one of the few species that is bucking the trend by considerably expanding its range. The butterfly gets its name from the only white marking on its underside, which resembles a comma. When resting with wings closed this butterfly has excellent camouflage, the jagged outline of the wings giving the appearance of a withered leaf, making the butterfly inconspicuous when resting on a tree trunk or when hibernating.  This butterfly was once widespread over most of England and Wales, and parts of southern Scotland, but by the middle of the 1800s had suffered a severe decline that left it confined to the Welsh border counties, especially West Gloucestershire, East Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Monmouthshire. It is thought that the decline may have been due to a reduction in Hop farming, a key larval foodplant at the time. Since the 1960s this butterfly has made a spectacular comeback, with a preference for Common Nettle as the larval foodplant, and it is now found throughout England, Wales, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands and has recently reached Scotland. There have also been a few records from Ireland.” 

Letter 4 – Green Comma from Alaska


Subject: Butterfly
Location: Kenai,alaska
September 10, 2016 11:42 am
Wondering what the name of this butterfly is?? I live in Kenai,Alaska and it is September. A lot different looking than the milbert fortis shell morning cloak.
Signature: Tammy Thompson

Anglewing Butterfly
Green Comma Butterfly

Dear Tammy,
This is one of the Anglewing Butterflies in the genus
Polygonia.  It might be the Green Comma, Polygonia faunus, based on this BugGuide image.  According to BugGuide the habitat is:  “Northern and high mountain woodlands, often associated with broken terrain and near streams.”  Another possibility is the Hoary Comma, Polygonia gracilis, and according to Butterflies and Moths of North America, the range is:  “Boreal North America south of the tundra. Central Alaska south to central California and northern New Mexico; east across southern Canada and the Great Lakes region to New England and the Maritimes.”  We turned away from the internet and referenced our Butterflies Through Binoculars, The West field guide by Jeffrey Glassberg and we are now confident this is a Green Comma, because of the description:  “Usually the wings are more jagged than other anglewings.  … Above note the two black spots on the inner margin of the FW (top spot sometimes faint) and the black spot in the middle of the HW.”


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    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

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