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Butterflies of temperate Asia
Comma
Polygonia c-album  LINNAEUS, 1758
Family - NYMPHALIDAE
subfamily - NYMPHALINAE
Tribe - NYMPHALINI
Polygonia c-album Adrian Hoskins
Introduction
The genus Polygonia comprises 17 species, found variously in North America, Europe, temperate Asia and north Africa. There are 9 species found in North America.
As a genus the butterflies are instantly recognisable by their characteristic ragged wing shape. Most species have a similar upperside pattern of dark brown spots on a golden-orange ground colour. On the undersides they are cryptically marked to resemble dead leaves or tree bark, and have a white or silvery mark in the centre of the hindwing - in c-album this mark is shaped like a comma.

Polygonia c-album is found across most of Europe and temperate Asia to northern China, Korea and Japan. It also occurs in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.

Habitats
In spring Commas breed primarily in woodland edge habitats where stinging nettles grow in damp but sunny situations, typically in glades or at the side of grassy tracks. The summer adults are more mobile however, and can breed in gardens, old quarries, along country lanes and railway cuttings, on sheltered areas of scrubby grassland, and at coastal habitats. They freely roam the countryside and can be found anywhere where stinging nettles or elms grow but favour sunny sheltered sites with bramble bushes nearby, and a profusion of wild flowers.
Lifecycle
There are 2 generations each year. Larvae hatching from eggs laid in early March by overwintered females develop slowly, pupating in mid-June to produce adults of the brightly marked hutchinsoni form. These emerge in early July and remain on the wing until mid-August. The overwintered adults however remain alive until late spring and continue laying eggs until mid-May. Larvae hatching from these later eggs develop more slowly to produce normal adults which emerge in August. Meanwhile the offspring of the hutchinsoni brood produce another generation of normal adults which emerge in September. In late summer it is possible to see both forms flying together. The hutchinsoni adults die by early September. The normal form adults enter hibernation and awaken the following spring.
The green, ribbed eggs are laid singly, close to the edge on the upperside of Urtica nettle leaves. Commas normally oviposit on plants growing in sheltered situations in sunny woodland glades or around field edges. Other foodplants used include Humulus, Ulmus, Salix caprea, Corylus and Ribes.
The fully grown caterpillar is unmistakable, being brownish black, with orange spikes on the front segments, and a long splash of white along the back. It often rests on the upper surface of a leaf, adopting a semi-curled posture, and at a glance can be mistaken for a bird dropping.
The chrysalis is marbled in shades of brown, and decorated with spangles of silver and gold. They are usually suspended from woody stems or shaded tree trunks.
Polygonia c-album Adrian Hoskins
Adult behaviour

In spring Commas occupy ride intersections and glades, where they nectar at blackthorn blossom, sallow catkins and dandelions. They spend long periods basking on leaf litter, bare ground, on logs, or on bramble leaves or dead bracken. It is also common to see them basking head-downward on fence posts, or on the trunks of birch and ash trees.

Males establish territorial perches on twigs, logs or favoured leaves which they use as bases from which to launch flights to ambush other passing butterflies. Intruding male Commas and butterflies of other species including Peacocks and Orange tips are always ousted from the territory. Passing female Commas are intercepted, but I have not witnessed the courtship ritual or found any mated pairs. Copulation reportedly takes place high in the tree tops.

On warm sunny days in spring, butterflies of both sexes frequently settle on paths, tree stumps or wood shavings to imbibe moisture. Summer nectar sources include bramble, hemp agrimony, wild carrot, marjoram, thistles and traveller's joy.

In cool cloudy weather, Commas roost openly on foliage, and if disturbed will feign death, falling to the ground, with their wings closed, and their white legs tucked tightly against their bodies.

Towards dusk Commas seek overnight roosting sites. One evening in early July 2009, I watched a female settling down to roost - she spent 2 or 3 minutes fluttering around on the shady side of an ivy covered fence, and eventually settled for the night under an ivy leaf, resting on the midrib, with head pointing towards the stem. On several occasions I have found Commas roosting at ground level among grasses - in these cases the butterflies always roost head-downward. The camouflage is quite remarkable, giving the impression of a dead oak leaf that has fallen onto the grass.

In early autumn the butterflies nectar avidly at devil's bit scabious, buddleia, ragwort and fleabane in preparation for hibernation. The feeding frenzy continues into September and October when they nectar at ivy, and gorge themselves on sugary juices exuding from fermenting blackberries.

In late October they seek out hibernation sites, usually choosing to spend the winter months hiding in wood stacks, hollow tree trunks, or sometimes out in the open, hanging beneath branches.

 

 

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