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This Week’s Creature Feature: The Punctuation Mark Butterflies

Surely they deserve an exclamation point!

     Some butterflies overwinter as fully winged adults. Somehow they manage to find a spot to hide and not freeze or have their wings damaged.
      Two species, the question mark and comma butterflies, both are known to overwinter. They are quite similar to each other in other ways, as well. 
     They share a unique appetite for the juices of decay. Rotten fruit, decaying fungus, dung and carrion are what they prefer to feed on. When they cannot find the preferred food, they will drink nectar from flowers.
     In looks they are also alike. Both have similar-shaped wings that when closed look like a leaf with either a small white question mark or a comma hidden in the design. The wings are reddish-orange when opened. Seeing the markings on closed wings is the most reliable way of telling the two apart.
     Habitat is also similar. Both prefer living in and around deciduous forests with the caterpillars’ preferred host tree being the American elm. 
     After surviving a winter, the adults feed, couple and lay eggs to start the first of two generations of the year. The first generation lives in the warm months and matures rapidly. The second generation starts maturity in the fall and must find a place to hide through winter. 
     Thus punctuation mark butterflies are among the first butterflies you can see in the spring — though you probably will not find them around any flowers.  
     Here you see a comma butterfly I found at Jug Bay this November, warming in the sun after a cold night.