The Comma butterfly is a beautiful and interesting butterfly which was once seen only in the south of England but which is now common throughout England and Wales. It is unusual because of the ragged shape of its wings which give it the appearance of being pecked or torn. This ragged edge gives it almost perfect camouflage when the wings are closed and it is perched on any twig or branch as they look just like the edges of a leaf. The only thing which spoils the camouflage is a bright white mark looking like a punctuation comma from which the Comma butterfly gets its name, this appears on both male and female, the female underwing is darker than that of the male. The Comma butterfly likes to spend time with its wings open wide absorbing the heat from the sun whilst others prefer to keep their wings closed most of the time, this makes it an easy butterfly to photograph.
The males will set up a territory and can be seen sunbathing on log piles and posts amongst other things waiting for a passing female. Frequently when disturbed they will return to the same spot. The wings on the Comma butterfly are a mixture of browns and bright oranges with similar patterning to that of the Tortoiseshell butterfly and at a glance to the untrained eye can quite easily be mistaken for one.
Comma butterflies which have hibernated through the winter mate in March and April and the first generation in July, these are lighter in colour. These mate and produce a darker generation which appear in September and October. The eggs which are green in colour slowly over a period of two to three weeks turn first to orange and then to grey just before the caterpillars emerge. They are laid singularly or in small groups at the very tips of the pointed edges of leaves on which the caterpillars will feed. The favoured plants are hops but sometimes nettles or current bushes are used. The caterpillars are multicoloured browns and white looking a little like bird droppings which is a good camouflage against predators.
Favourite nectar plants are Michaelmas daisies, Buddleias, Ivy, Hemp agrimony, Bramble flowers, Thistles and Knapweed. The Comma is primarily an edge of woodland butterfly but can be tempted into your wildlife garden by planting these flowers which will supply them with a good nectar source for butterflies stocking up their fat reserves for hibernation.
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