Comma butterflies are a small genera of brushfoots found primarily in wooded areas of the United States. The larvae of many species feed on leaves from trees in both the elm and willow families. Therefore, they might show up in residential areas with wooded areas that host those types of trees.
Identifying them at the group level is fairly easy because they all have irregular shaped wings. The top of the wings have distinct dark patterns on an orange background. The underside of the wings are dull looking to help hide them at rest.
The name comma comes from the small white mark, common shaped, that appears on the underside of the wing and is visible during a side view of the butterfly.
Using top views and side views of Comma butterflies is vital for identification. The Green Comma (pictured above) along with the Oreas Comma inhabit forest areas in the West. Wing color and pattern on the top of the wings of both species are close to similar.
Oreas have a much darker wing on the underside.
Sometimes geography can help with identification. For example, the Green Comma range also extends a bit to the Upper-Midwest and New England. Because the Oreas Comma does not inhabit these areas, the top wing pattern is sufficient for identification.
Gray Commas are an Eastern and Midwestern species. The two spots on the bottom wings in the picture are a good field ID clue for them.
The side view of the Gray Comma shows shades of gray, hence the name. The thin striations in the wings also are a good field ID clue.
Those types of identification clues for the Gray Comma are also helpful to distinguish it from the two additional Eastern Comma Butterfly species, the Eastern Comma and the Question Mark.
The picture shows a light version of the Eastern Comma. Notice the three visible spots on the bottom wings versus the two spots for the Gray Comma.
During the summer the bottom wing (also called the hind wing) turns mostly black for the three species, thus covering the spots and making for confusing identifications.
The side view of the Eastern Comma is a lighter shade of brown with the traditional comma mark more lie a “U”.
Here’s a top view of a Question Mark butterfly during the summer with the darkened hind wings.
The side view will show a break in the traditional comma mark. The small dot at one end of thee break gives the impression of a question mark.
The Satyr Comma, inhabits woodland areas from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Coast.
The presence of multiple black spots on both the top and bottom wings, along with a light border on the lower wing serve as good field identification clues.
It is one of the only comma species found at lower elevations near the caterpillar host plant, stinging nettle. Adults overwinter in their territory and re-emerge during early spring.
The Hoary Comma another primarily Western species, also maintains a small population in northern New England.
The two black spots on the bottom wing, along with the light brown and mustard wing border, serve as the basic identification clues.