Alabama Butterfly Atlas

Butterfly: Wingspan: 1 3/4 - 2 1/2 inches (4.5 - 6.4 cm). Upper surface forewings are brownish-orange with dark spots; there is one dark spot at the center of the bottom edge. Forewing above is brownish-orange with dark spots; there is one dark spot at center of bottom edge. Hindwing above has two patterns: summer form is mostly black; winter form is orange with black spots; both have a dark border containing pale spots. Underside is brown; hindwing has a distinctive central silvery white comma. Forewing above is brownish-orange with dark spots.

ID Tip: Silver-white comma mark on ventral hindwing. Typically does not have violet edging.

Egg: Green, vertically ribbed. Laid singly or in short stacks on host plant leaves

Caterpillar: Variable in color: black to greenish brown with a white band and several rows of pale, branched spines.

Chrysalis: The gray to brown chrysalis is distinctive in having two rows of gold or silver projections on the surface of the abdomen. Eastern Commas were once called Hop Merchants because of their caterpillars' affinity for hop vines. According to legend, if pupal spikes are gold, hop prices will rise.  If they are silver, prices will plummet.

Their heavily scalloped, uneven wing shapes place Eastern Commas in a group of butterflies descriptively known as “anglewings.” They tend to be slightly smaller than their close relatives, Question Marks, but this difference may be hard to discern in the field.  Eastern Commas overwinter as adult butterflies and often fly in early spring on warm days.

Eastern Commas have a rapid, erratic flight. They startle with a flash of orange and then seem to disappear as they settle with closed, leaf-like outer wings. They are often observed sipping moisture and nutrients from damp soil or perching on a tree trunk.  Commas generally feed from ripe fruit, carrion, or dung but will nectar at flowers when these food sources are in short supply.

Eastern Commas are not encountered as often as Question Marks. They are more common in the northern two-thirds of the state and seemingly rare in the Coastal Region.

 

 

Distribution and Abundance

A dot on the county map indicates that there is at least one documented record of the species within that county. In some cases, a species may be common throughout the county, in others it may be found in only a specific habitat.

The sightings bar graphs depict the timing of flight(s) within each of three geographic regions. Place your cursor on a bar within the graph to see the number of individuals recorded during that period.

The abundance calendar displays the total number of individuals recorded within each week of the month. Both the graphs and the calendar are on based data collection that began in 2000.

The records analyzed here are only a beginning. As more data is collected, these maps and graphs will paint a more accurate picture of distribution and abundance in Alabama. Submit your sightings to albutterflyatlas@gmail.com.

Sightings in the following counties: Bibb, Blount, Colbert, Dallas, DeKalb, Franklin, Jackson, Jefferson, Lawrence, Marshall, Monroe, Perry, Pickens, Randolph, Shelby, Sumter, Tallapoosa, Tuscaloosa, Winston

  • Sightings in the past 5 years
  • Sightings in the past 5 - 10 years
  • Sightings more than 10 years ago
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
1 5 4 1 2 4 4 6 12 7 9 4 1 3 3 2 1 5 2 2 2 8 2 3 1 2 4 3 2

Habitat

Deciduous woodlands with some open space. 

Host and Nectar Plants

Elms (Ulmus spp.), nettles (Urtica spp.), false nettles (Boehmeria spp.) , hackberries (Celtis spp.), and hops (Humulus spp.) are reported elsewhere.

This plant has been verified in Alabama: False Nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica).

For more information about the documented host plants and/or nectar plants, please visit the Alabama Plant Atlas using the following links:

Landscaping Ideas

Let False Nettle grow in out-of-the-way places to benefit butterflies like Eastern Commas, Question Marks, and Red Admirals.

Hop growers may also attract Eastern Commas to the garden.