Observation of the week – July 10-16, 2021

Our tenth observation of the week is a butterfly we have not featured before – the Eastern Comma. This one was seen by Gerald (@geraldm) in his backyard.

In the 19th century the Eastern Comma was also known as the Hop Merchant, which comes with an interesting story. Common Hops (Humulus lupus) are a popular ingredient in beer and a host plant for Eastern Comma caterpillars. Many Hop growers were familiar with this butterfly and used the number of gold flecks seen on its chrysalis as a sign of a how good the hop selling year would be – hence the name Hop Merchant.

The Eastern Comma also has some other host plants that aren’t quite as attractive as Common Hops and its beer brewing abilities - Stinging Nettle and Wood Nettle. If you are searching for this butterfly, seek out nettle growing alongside forest openings, deciduous woodlands, and early successional areas . But be careful not to touch these plants, as they can cause skin irritation.

Eastern Commas are part of the ‘punctuation group’ of butterflies , which includes the Question Mark as well as other Comma species. These butterflies can be identified by the white markings on the undersides of their wings, which are shaped like either a comma or a question mark. Aside from these markings on the underside, Commas have very mottled brown and grey underwings, which help camouflage them against tree bark when closed. When open, the bold and vibrant shades of orange of the upper sides of their wings stand out from their environment.

This butterfly is quite a fast and erratic flyer. It will settle once it’s found a moist spot to sip on damp soil or tree sap. For Gerald, photographing the Eastern Comma took several attempts – as he recounts: “This butterfly I had seen over a number of days around the house and yard. It was always very flighty and never paused very long in one spot. This morning was cool after night rains. It was sunning itself on a rock pile and quite still when I took the picture”. Oh, the patience required to photograph a butterfly!

You may think butterfly watching and photography is a summertime activity, but you may be in for a surprise if you’re looking for the Eastern Comma. This butterfly has two generations per year – one in the summer and one in the winter. The winter generation are in flight from around September to October. As temperatures get cooler and we cozy up in our homes, adult Eastern Commas are doing the same – hibernating underneath leaf litter and bark. But, if you’re out for a late winter walk you may be surprised to see a flash of orange flying by. Eastern Commas often reappear during warm spells, a happy reminder that spring is not far away.

Post written by Lily Vuong (@lilyvuong), Crew Leader, Community Outreach

Lähettänyt lltimms lltimms, 20. heinäkuuta 2021 17:59

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