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Family Nymphalidae | Subfamily Nymphalinae | Previous | Next

Hoary Comma
Polygonia gracilis (Grote& Robinson, 1867)

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Diagnosis: This butterfly is very similar on the upperside to the other anglewings. The hindwings consistently have bright yellow spots in the dark wing margins. It is best distinguished by the dark inner part of the underside of the wings, contrasting strongly with the grey, "hoary" outer part. The silver comma is thin and pointed at both ends, as in progne. Wingspan 37 to 50 mm.

Subspecies: Subspecies zephyrus (until recently considered a separate species by most authors) is found in southern British Columbia, Alberta, and the Cypress Hills of Saskatchewan; the underside is a dark silvery grey with less contrast than in the nominate subspecies. The nominate subspecies gracilis has the basal half of the wings on the underside dark brown, contrasting sharply with the hoary grey shading on the outer half; it occurs through eastern Canada west to Manitoba. There is an unnamed intermediate form in which the wings are grey brown beneath with a moderate line of contrast separating the two halves of the wings; it occurs through western Canada from Manitoba to Alaska and south to central British Columbia, where it intergrades with subspecies zephyrus.

Range: There are several records from Labrador (Happy Valley and Goose Bay), Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. From there the species occurs in a band from the northern New England states across Quebec and northern Ontario. It is widespread in the four western provinces north to Sam Lake, Yukon and Reindeer Station, Northwest Territories, and Coppermine, Nunavut.

map of CanadaSpecimen collection data
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Similar Species: Most likely to be confused with the Grey Comma (P. progne), but this species lacks the contrast between basal and outer halves of the underside of both wings. [compare images]

Early Stages: The larva is dark brown with reddish streaks and spines on its back on the front half of the body and whitish patches and spines on its back on the rear half. It is usually reported to feed on currants (Ribes spp.), but subspecies zephyrus has also been found on elm (Ulmus spp.) and Rhododendron spp. (Bird et al., 1995).

Abundance: Polygonia gracilis is uncommon to rare in eastern Canada and New England, but is frequently a common species in western Canada and U.S.

Flight Season: Polygonia gracilis has one brood per year, with adults emerging in July and August and overwintering to the next spring.

Habits: This is another boreal-forest butterfly. Unlike the other anglewings, it is sometimes found nectaring at flowers, such as asters and everlastings (Klassen et al., 1989).

© 2002. This material is reproduced with permission from The Butterflies of Canada by Ross A. Layberry, Peter W. Hall, and J. Donald Lafontaine. University of Toronto Press; 1998. Specimen photos courtesy of John T. Fowler.


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Date Modified: 2010-05-31