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It is a beautiful day here in North Wales and I’ve just been watching a gorgeous Comma butterfly gliding around the garden. We have nothing left in flower to keep it here, but I took some photographs of one, maybe even the same one earlier in the month when there were still some flowers on the buddleia.

CommaPolygonia c-album

The colouring of the Comma is similar to that of the Small Tortoiseshell, but the shaped wings are distinctive

Sightings of  Comma butterflies have become a familiar sight throughout most of England and Wales, particularly in the late summer, as this is one of the few species that appears to be thriving and considerably expanding its range. Primarily a woodland butterfly, where it can be seen gliding along woodland rides and country lanes, they are however  frequently seen in gardens during the late summer, seeking nectar sources to build up fat reserves before entering hibernation.

In the garden they are known to be particularly drawn to the pink flowers of Sedum spectabuli (Ice Plant, Showy Stonecrop, Butterfly stonecrop) and on a sunny day will stay on one flowerhead for a considerable length of time. They also spend a good amount of time basking, favouring surfaces such as tree trunks, wood piles and fence posts; I’ve even seen them on bamboo canes.

The butterfly gets its name from the only white marking on its underside, which resembles a comma punctuation mark.

The butterfly gets its name from the only white marking on its underside, which resembles a comma. When resting with wings closed this butterfly has excellent camouflage, when the jagged outline of the wings give it the appearance of a dry withered leaf, making the butterfly inconspicuous when resting on a tree trunk or when hibernating.

Lifecycle & behaviour

The primary larval foodplant is the Common Nettle (Urtica dioica). Other plants used may include Currants (various) (Ribes spp.), Elms (various) (Ulmus spp.), Hop (Humulus lupulus) and Willows (various) (Salix spp.).

Adults feed primarily on Thistles (Cirsium spp. and Carduus spp.). Bramble (Rubus fruticosus agg.), Ivy (Hedera helix), Knapweeds (Centaurea spp.) and Privet (Ligustrum vulgare) are also used.

The butterfly will stay on a single flowerhead for quite long periods of time

After emergence, the male butterfly sets up a territory, often on the sunny side of a woodland margin or at the junction of two woodland rides. Here he will sit on a favourite perch awaiting a passing female and will fly up to investigate any passing insect. The male will also make short flights – always returning to the same perch. Even when disturbed, the male will fly off for several metres or so before predictably returning to exactly the same leaf. When egg-laying the female makes short fluttering flights over the foodplant, stopping every few feet, landing on the foodplant and, if suitable, laying a single green egg.

(Some information taken from the excellent UK Butterflies website  http://www.ukbutterflies.co.uk )