Sunday afternoon I noticed something as it went to an oak limb over the driveway. I walked over to get a closer look and saw this…
You see it, don’t you? Look closely:) Okay, if you did see it, you are good, because it resembles one of the brown leaves on the oak branch. I circled the object of interest in the image below.
It is a butterfly – a Question Mark, Polygonia interrogationis. Question Marks and Commas are members of the anglewing group of butterflies, named for the irregular outline of their wings. The common names come from the silver punctuation marks on the underside of their wings.
This time of year, when the wings are open, Question Marks have bright orange and brown coloration. When viewed from above, they can be distinguished from their close cousin, the Eastern Comma, by the presence of a black dash above the outermost black dot at the bottom of the bright orange patch of the forewing (Commas lack the dash). They also tend to have more angular-shaped wings and longer tails than Commas. This image shows the typical winter form of the Question Mark – the upper hindwing of the summer form is mostly black with short tails; the winter form is orange/black with longer violet tipped tails.
When the wings are folded and closed, the Question Mark becomes an excellent dead leaf mimic. The wing outline resembles the twisted shapes of adjacent leaves and the color blends nicely, even in the changing light throughout the day. I saw this butterfly fly up to the oak limb Sunday afternoon. It moved around for a few seconds and then sat still, immediately blending into its surroundings.
I checked on it a little later as the sun was setting and it was still in the same spot. It was cold Sunday night so I went back out Monday morning – still there. I checked again yesterday at sunset, thinking it probably had flown with the warming daytime temperatures – nope, still there.
And again, just a few minutes ago, it is still there. It has been almost 48 hours – amazing. This species is one of our few butterflies that overwinters as an adult so you may see them flitting about on warm winter days where they feed on tree sap, rotting fruit, and animal scat. I had always assumed they passed the cold days hidden in hollow trees or under loose bark. I will be curious to see how long it stays out on this branch. The more I learn, the more amazed I am at what goes on outside my woodland home.