Eastern Comma

Polygonia comma

EastComma1 2010 was a good year for all of the commas (or anglewing or playfully described as a punctuation butterfly) in both Minnesota and Wisconsin.

One of the anglewing butterflies, these guys can be hard to tell apart. All of the Crex punctuation butterflies are very similar when viewing top wing. For my own butterfly sightings, I see many more commas than I am able to positively ID, either because they are too worn, or they fly away before giving me an underwing view. You will often see comments on Wisconsin butterflies where a report includes "saw some punctuation butterflies but cant tell them apart".
The Eastern comma is uncommon relative to other brushfooted butterflies on Crex Meadows, but it is present and typically the most common of the comma butterflies encountered. These butterflies are typically found in singles but occasionally you will find a couple of them together. They are not nectaring butterflies, rather they get minerals and other nutrients from wet ground, rotted fruits, dung and scat, and sometimes sap.

Eastern commas are perching butterflies, often sitting on the trunk of a tree where sunlight breaks through the forest and shines on the trunk. They appear to be territorial and will head buzz and pursue other insects near their chosen perching spot.

Wing span: 1 3/4 - 2 1/2 inches (4.5 - 6.4 cm).

Caterpillar hosts: All members of the elm and nettle families including American elm (Ulmus americana), hops (Humulus), nettle (Urtica), false nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica), and wood nettle (Laportea canadensis).

Identification Tips

    - On the forewing topside, the larger brown spot near the bottom center often has a shadow spot above or sometimes to the side. This shadow spot is usually not present on the Gray comma, but is also sometimes missing or very faint in the Eastern comma.
    - On the forewing topside, going from the brown shadow spot towards the wingtip, the Eastern and Gray comma have three brown spots, the Question Mark has four spots, with the forth one often being bar shaped.
    - On the hindwing topside, there is often 3 dark brown spots with one dark spot near the center of the hindwing. The Gray comma typically has two brown spots near the top edge of the hindwing (top view).
    - The comma is typically sharply hooked on one or both ends.
    - The underwing pattern is typically more sharply patterned and contrasting.
The underside view of the Eastern comma is unique and should not be confused with any other commas/polygonia in Wisconsin.

The Comma/Polygonia butterflies in Wisconsin are very similar and can be challenging to identify at times. Upper and lower wing shots of the same butterfly are very helpful. For Wisconsin, the most common is the Eastern Comma, followed by the Question mark. The Gray comma is the 3rd most common.
Eastcomma5 Top view of the Eastern comma summer form. It is much darker than the spring/fall form.

As the three topview photos show, there can be much variety within this species.

Sightings Chart

Colored squares along the x-axis indicate weeks none of this species were seen. Example May 1 - 25 show several visits over the years with no sightings of the Eastern Comma.
Chart Accuracy Self Rating: Moderate. Estimate 75% of comma sightings identified. Numbers displayed are 100% correct, however there are potential comma sightings that could not be verified via photo.


TaxonomyEastern Comma-Polygonia comma   
Kingdom: Animalia Animals
Phylum: Arthropoda Arthropods
Superclass: Hexapoda Hexapods
Class: Insecta Insects
Subclass: Pterygota Winged Insects
    Order: Lepidoptera Butterflies and Moths
      Superfamily:  Papilionoidea
          Family:   Nymphalidae    Brushfooted
            Subfamily:    Nymphalinae     Anglewing
               Tribe:      Nymphalini
                   Genus:       Polygonia
                      Specie:           comma