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The Question Mark Butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis) has a Curious Question for You

Introduction to the Question Mark Butterfly

The Question Mark butterfly is located throughout eastern North America from North Dakota and Texas and east. Host plants include members of the Urticaceae (Nettle Family) and Ulmaceae (Elm Family) and hackberry (Celtis sp.). The name comes from a question mark shape on the wings.

Question Mark Butterfly on milkweed.
Question Mark Butterfly — Barnes Dr Thomas G, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Question Mark Butterfly

The Question Mark butterfly is a member of a group of butterflies called the brushfooted butterflies. These butterflies have a first pair of legs that resembles a narrow brush. The members of the Genus Polygonia are considered part of the anglewing subgroup due to the jagged outline of the wings.

Description

Color: Orange with darker wing margins and black spots. The black spots on the top of the wing form a dash like shape and there is a white question mark like shape underneath, giving it the name. When the wings are closed, it looks like a dead leaf and provides camouflage on the forest floor.

Wingspan: 2 to 3 inches.

Active Flying Time: The first generation of the Question Mark butterfly flies roughly from May to September and the second generation comes out in late summer to overwinter and lays eggs in the spring.

Lifecycle of the Butterfly

Eggs of the Question Mark are laid under leaves, sometimes not of a host plant. The caterpillars then have to find a host plant.

The adults of the second generation may overwinter in loose bark and tree hollows. Some may also migrate south. (Bouseman and Sternburg 2001)

Bouseman, John K. and James G. Sternburg. 2001. Field Guide to the Butterflies of Illinois. Champaign, Ill: Illinois Natural History Survey.

There can be two forms of the butterfly depending on the season

The Question Mark butterfly can exhibit two forms depending on the season. In the summer form the uppersides of the hindwings are mostly black. In the winter form, the hindwings are similar to the forewings with orange and black coloring. (Bouseman and Sternburg 2001)

References Cited

Bouseman, John K. and James G. Sternburg. 2001. Field Guide to the Butterflies of Illinois. Champaign, Ill: Illinois Natural History Survey.

Habitat and Range

Question Mark butterflies are generally found in wooded areas and also roadsides. It ranges from the Eastern US and Canada. Some migrate as far west as eastern Colorado, Mexico, and Newfoundland.

Host Plants

The larvae of this butterfly feed on a variety of plants from the Ulmaceae (Ulmus sp.), Urticaceae (Boehmeria cylindrica and Urtica sp.), hackberry (Celtis sp.) and basswood (Tilia spp.).

Nectar Plants

Similar to the Red Admiral butterfly, the Question Mark has a preference for rotting fruit, tree sap, and dung. They also rarely visit flowers such as common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia), and aster (Symphyotrichum sp.).

Other Common Names for this butterfly

The Question Mark is also known as the Semicolon and Violet Tip. (Bouseman and Sternburg 2001)

Bouseman, John K. and James G. Sternburg. 2001. Field Guide to the Butterflies of Illinois. Champaign, Ill: Illinois Natural History Survey.

The Question from the Butterfly

Where is the Question Mark are located on me?

Answer is located in the For More Information section.

For More Information

Butterflies at Home: Question Mark Butterfly

Wikipedia: Question Mark Butterfly

University of Florida (featured creatures): Question Mark Butterfly

InsectIndentification for the casual observer: Question Mark Butterfly

Bouseman, John K. and James G. Sternburg. 2001. Field Guide to the Butterflies of Illinois. Champaign, Ill: Illinois Natural History Survey. — can be seen in this article on page 178.


Answer to Question: Underneath the wing.

Question Mark Butterfly on leaf.
Dark (summer) phase of the Question Mark Butterfly — U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe is a professional ecologist and botanist who has worked as the State Ecologist of Delaware and as an ecologist for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. He is also a former Past-President of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science. He currently is an innkeeper at McMullen House Bed & Breakfast LLC and a web designer and owner for Silphium Design LLC.

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