New Jersey Butterflies

Question Mark

Polygonia interrogationis

Identification: Medium—2.5". Wing edges distinctly irregular, with FW hooked at tip and HW tailed. Above (light form): FW and HW bright orange with many black spots, including a line of 3 round dots capped by a horizontal dash. Above (dark form): FW same as light form, but HW mostly blackish, with some orange near the base. Below: FW and HW range from rather plain, light grayish-brown (sometimes with pale violet overtones) to distinctly mottled in shades of dark and light brown. HW with silvery mark in center consisting of a short, curved line and a separate dot, forming a "question mark." This mark separates it from Eastern Comma, which lacks the dot and thus displays a "comma"; also, Eastern Comma lacks the horizontal dash in apex of FW above.

NJ Status and Distribution: Resident. Fairly common and widespread throughout.

NJ Range Map-Question Mark

Habitat: In and near woods, where it is usually seen on bare ground. Sometimes found nectaring in fields and in gardens, especially near woods, but usually found at sap runs, moist ground, or even carrion and dung. Can be attracted to gardens with overripe fruit.

Flight Period: Two broods over most of the state. Adults overwinter, begin flying in March (south) and April (north), and produce offspring that emerge largely in May-July. Their offspring in turn fly from late August into October (north) and November (south), then hibernate. Southward migration in fall is notable, particularly along the coast, and a less-obvious northward movement occurs in spring. The timing and intensity of this immigration varies greatly. Extreme dates: North Jersey 3/11-12/31; South Jersey 1/7—12/18.

Larval Food Plants: Nettles (Urtica), elms (Ulmus), and hackberries (Celtis).

Overwintering Stage: Adult.

Best Locations: Unpaved roads in Delaware Water Gap NRA (where sometimes many dozens can be seen in a few hours), Whittingham WMA parking lots and woods roads.

Comments: The lavender border on the trailing edge of both wings of a fresh QM never fails to elicit oohs and aahs from appreciative butterfliers. As with most “true brushfoot” species, populations fluctuate greatly. Question Mark, Eastern Comma, and Gray Comma are informally called "anglewings," referring to the irregular wing margins.

Question Mark

Dark form, Frelinghuysen Arb., Morris Co., NJ, 6/15/11.

Question Mark

Light form, Glenhurst Meadows, Somerset Co., NJ, 9/25/11.

Question Mark

Mottled form, Kittatinny Valley SP, Sussex Co., NJ, 7/4/06.

Question Mark

Plain form, Fredon Twp., Sussex Co., NJ, 8/7/11.

Question Mark Larva

Late instar larva of Question Mark.