Question Mark Butterfly

Question Mark Butterfly
By Damon Mullis

This Question Mark Butterfly (winter form) was photographed in the park in February by Larry Anderson.

This Question Mark Butterfly (winter form) was photographed in the park in February by L. Anderson.

Spring is in full bloom, and with it butterfly activity in the swamp is on the rise. To prime you for butterfly season, today we’ll explore a butterfly that sometimes gets overlooked while people are out searching for Monarchs and Swallow-tails: the Question Mark Butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis). It gets its name from the silver question mark-like marking seen when its wings are folded back. In this position, the butterfly looks remarkably like an old leaf, disguising its location from predators.

The Question Mark larvae are more opportunistic feeders than many other butterfly larvae. Unlike Monarch larvae that only feed on milkweed, they feed on many different plant species, with elm trees and nettles being some of their favorites. Interestingly, the adult females usually lay their eggs under the leaves of non-host plants and the hatchlings must search out a suitable plant species to feed on.

There are usually two generations of hatchlings per year with each brood having a different adult form. The upper hindwing surfaces of the summer form are largely black. The upper wing surfaces of the winter form are fringed with violet, and the hindwings are rich orange above. As adults, they like to feed on fermenting fruit, tree sap, dung, and carrion, and only feed on nectar if these sources aren’t available. In addition to Question Marks, many other butterfly species feed on a variety of non-nectar food sources. So, when you’re out searching for butterflies in the park, don’t just focus on the flowers.