Insects of Britain and Ireland: butterflies

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L. Watson and M. J. Dallwitz


Adults. Wingspan 50–64 mm; the fringes conspicuously light-and-dark banded. Slender-bodied to medium built; very short-bodied. The eyes hairy. Antennae reaching noticeably over halfway to the wingtip. The antennal clubs abrupt; flattened (blunt). Labial palps ascending. Having only 4 fully developed legs (forelegs with two tarsal joints and brushlike in males, those of females having 4 tarsal joints with short setae). Fore-legs without a tibial epiphysis. Tibiae of middle legs 2-spurred. Posterior tibiae 2-spurred.

Forewings. Forewings apically blunt to pointed. The outer and hind margins angled at about 95–98 degrees. The outer margins strongly and irreguarly dentate, excavated and angulated; in addition, scalloped. Uppersides of the forewings rich orange-brown; without a discal mark; with several black anterior spots or blotches, and a dark red-brown terminal band including a series of orange spots.

Hindwings. Hindwings broadly angular; rather prominently tailed; with the outer margins scalloped (and deeply excavated, like the forewings). Uppersides of the hindwings orange-brown; conspicuously patterned; without a discal mark; colour patterned with spots and blotches like the forewings.

Undersides of wings. Undersides of the forewings cryptically colour-patterned in shades of either dark charcoal or yellowish brown, and irregularly marbled paler or darker.

Undersides of the hindwings cryptically colour-patterned like those of the forewings, in shades of either dark fuscous or yellowish brown irregularly marbled paler or darker, and embellished with the conspicuous white mark after which the species is named; with a conspicuous discal mark (this in the form of a conspicuous, shining white “comma”).

Wing venation. Forewings 12 veined; without basally dilated veins. Forewings with 1 tubular anal vein; the anal veins of the forewings representing 1b only; vein 1b simple. Forewings with a discal cell to without a discal cell (the transverse vein weak between veins 4 and 5). Forewing veins 8 and 9 out of 7, the rest separate.

Hindwings 9 veined; with a praecostal spur; with 2 anal veins; exhibiting vein 1a; the anal veins comprising 1a and 1b. Hindwings with a closed discal cell; the transverse vein complete to incomplete (weak between veins 4 and 5). 7 veins arising from the hindwing cell. The cell-derived hindwing veins 3+4 proximally joined.

Eggs, larvae, pupae. Eggs broadly conical (shortly conico-cylindric, with a small apical concavity); longitudinally ribbed (with about 10 ribs). The larvae with rows of bristly spines. Perhaps mainly on Humulus, but also Urtica and Ribes.

Pupae ridged and angular; conspicuously patterned; with shining-metallic markings (with golden or silvery spots where abdomen joins thorax); exposed, with no coccoon; suspended from the tail (cremaster), with no median silk girdle.

British representation. 1 species. Polygonia c-album (Comma). The adults abroad May to October, or October to April; hibernating.

Status in Britain. Indigenous.

Distribution. Northern England, English Midlands, East Anglia, Wales, southeast England, central southern England, southwest England, Isle of Wight, and Ireland. Frequenting open places. Habitats calcareous and non-calcareous.

Comments. A brisk flier with irregular fight paths. See Ford (1948) for discussion of seasonal variation in wing colour and degree of scalloping.

Classification. Superfamily Papilionoidea. Nymphalidae.

Illustrations. • Polygonia c-album (Comma: colour variants): photos. • Polygonia c-album (Comma), imbibing from fox dung (2): photo, Giles Watson. • Polygonia c-album (Comma), imbibing from fox dung (1): photo, Giles Watson. • Polygonia c-album (Comma), imbibing from rotting plums: photo, Giles Wason. • Polygonia c-album (Comma): egg, larva, pupa. • Larvae and pupae of P. c-album and Nymphalis polychloros: Duponchel (1849). • Polygonia c-album (Comma: Hübner/Curtis).

To view the illustrations with detailed captions, go to the interactive key. This also offers full and partial descriptions, diagnostic descriptions, differences and similarities between taxa, lists of taxa exhibiting or lacking specified attributes, and distributions of character states within any set of taxa.

Cite this publication as: ‘Watson, L., and Dallwitz, M.J. 2008 onwards. Insects of Britain and Ireland: butterflies. Version: 16th May 2016.’.