Orange butterfly with dark markings and ragged edge to wings

Comma. Photo: Mark Pike.

A species doing very well in Dorset, especially compared to the early twentieth century when it was very rare. We do not fully understand the reason for its decline or subsequent increase, but it may be that it used to feed primarily on hop, and when this became less widely grown, it declined, then increased when it moved to using stinging nettles for its caterpillars' foodplant.

Where to see

Habitat: Widespread, especially in woods, tall hedges and mature gardens.

Caterpillar foodplants: Hop, Stinging nettle, Elm.

Best places: Widespread

Reported from the following locations last year*:

When to see

Can be seen on the wing from March to October. A single brood and a double brood will often exist side-by-side.

Sightings by month (last 5 years)*:

Sightings this year*:


Notes

Size: Medium.

Another of the butterflies which overwinters as an adult, though you are less likely to find it in your shed or house than the Peacock or Small Tortoiseshell as it tends to hibernate in woods. You will find it on the wing from March.

Beginners sometimes wonder if this butterfly is a Fritillary, but the ragged edges of the wings make it easy to differentiate. Males and females are similar.

The upperside of the Comma is bright, so it tends to be easy to spot, especially when flying. When it closes its wings it is very well camouflaged, being quite dark, with the exception of the white mark which gives it its name, and even this helps, by breaking up the solid shape. If seen in strong light, there is actually quite a lot of variation in the brown of the underside, including some greeenish spots.

There is a variation on the ‘normal’ Comma, known as the Hutchinsoni. The eggs laid by the adults which emerge from hibernation in spring become adult butterflies, and these may either go into hibernation, or they may lay eggs themselves and the adults will emerge later in the same year and then go into hibernation: it is these later ones that are called the Hutchinsoni. The ‘decision’ at to whether to produce another brood takes place in the caterpillar stage, and if the adult is ‘normal’ it will be the usual colour, while the Hutchinsoni is more golden, and has less ragged edges to the wing. This ‘decision’ seems to be influenced by day length.

Photo gallery

Click thumbnails to view larger images.

*Please note: The charts shown on this page are drawn only from casual sightings submitted to this website. Records from this website will be added to a lot more data collected throughout the year and used to compile the five-yearly Butterfly Atlases for Dorset and the UK.