Butterflies Commonly Found in Pennsylvania Part Two

The Monarch Butterfly, Danaus plexippus, is a species which is most familiar to people. It is reddish- brown in color with its wings edged in black with two rows of small white spots. Its wing span is 3 3/8 – 4 7/8 inches. It is native to North America. What is interesting about the Monarch is that it migrates from the northern United States as fall arrives and the plants on which they feed go into dormancy. They travel 2,500 to 3,poo miles to overwinter. The butterflies from PA travel through the Carolinas and Florida and can reach as far as the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Once they reach their destination they feed on flower nectar from plants such as sage and begonias. When winter arrives they enter  hibernation (see picture below).

Large clusters of them hang from trees. During the winter they may take moisture and nectar on warm days. In the spring they begin to travel back to the north although it takes up to 4 generations to finally reach their destination. Milkweeds serve as the caterpillar host including the common milkweed (Asclepias syrica) swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnate) and the showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa). A poison from the milkweed is stored in both the larvae and the adult which protects them from predators.  The adult gets nectar from the milkweed. Before the milkweed blooms they frequent dogbane, lilac, red clover, lantana, and thistles. In the fall they vist goldenrod, blazing stars, ironweed, and tickseed sunflowers. Habitats include fields, meadows, weedy areas marshes, and roadsides.

A critical issue for the survival of the Monarch is the need to preserve both their overwintering grounds and their summer breeding grounds. Both are being threatened by climate change.

For additional information see: Monarch Watch, World Wildlife, The Monarch of Migration, Nature Work: The Monarch, U.S. Forest Service: Celebrating Wildflowers

Also for some very cool videos of the Monarch click here and here.

The Eastern Comma (Polygonia Comma) is small with a wing span of between  1 3/4 – 2 1/2″. The FW on the dorsal side is a brownish orange with darks spots. One dark spot is at the center of the bottom edge. The dorsal HW  has a summer and a winter form. In the summer it is predominantly black while in the winter it is mostly orange with black spots. Both the summer and winter form has a dark border with paler spots. The ventral side is brown with a silvery or white comma in the middle of the HW.

The males can be found perching on tree trunks or leaves  on the look-out for the females. The eggs are laid singly or in stacks on the undersides of leaves or rarely on twigs.  The caterpillars feeds on the host plant at night and they hide in nests by silking together the two sides of a leaf.

Their host plants include all members of the elm and nettle families including American elm (Ulmus americana), hops (Humulus lupulus), nettle (Urtica), hemps (Cannabaceae), false nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica) and wood nettle (Laportea canadensis).

Adult food sources include fermenting fruit, tree sap, animal droppings and nectarine on the common milkweed, joe pye weed and the smooth sumac.

Their habitat is primarily in deciduous woodlands, woods close to water sources, forest clearings, and open areas near to their food sources.

Fun Fact: ” In earlier years, farmers growing Hops are said to have used the brilliant metallic markings on the Eastern Comma‘s chrysalis (which they found in numbers on their crop) to forecast the season‘s prices: if the markings were golden, the Hop prices would be high; if they were silver, the prices would be lower. Hence, the derivation of the species‘ other common name, Hop Merchant.” (Taken from the Mass Audubon Atlas referenced below)

   For a short video of the Eastern Comma look here.

The Green comma, Polygonia faunas is named this because of the greenish submarginal bands on the underwings (picture on the left). Their wings have very ragged edges and their upper side is reddish brown with wide dark borders. The borders have yellow spots. The underside is brown with some green. Their wing span is 1 3/4 -2 1/2 inches.

In late afternoon, the males perch on rocks or plants in gullies to wait for females. Eggs are laid singly on the upper surface of host leaves.  Adults hibernate and mate the following spring.

The host plants for the green comma larvae include willows, birches, and the alder. As adults they feed on flower nectar, dung, and carrion. Their habitat includes woodlands, forests and stream sides.

For more information see this link at Wisconsin ButterfliesButterflies and Moths of North America.

University of Florida Extension

Mass Audubon


About chestercoextbutterfly

I am an apprentice Master Gardener with the Pennsylvania State University (PSU) Cooperative Extension Program. My local office is in Chester County. As part of my volunteer activity I am working with a team to develop a Butterfly Garden on the grounds of the  Church of the Loving Shepherd.  We will be using the creation of this garden as an educational program for some of the participants in the Bournelyf Special Camp which, is held every summer. Members of the congregation of the church will be involved as well as in the ongoing maintenance of the garden.The purpose of this blog is to document the project as it develops.
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