Polygonia c-album (po-lee-GOH-nee-uh see-AL-bum)

Comma - Chaldon, Surrey 19-March-11
Photo © Vince Massimo

50 - 64mm

Checklist Number

Family:NymphalidaeRafinesque, 1815
Subfamily:NymphalinaeRafinesque, 1815
Tribe:NymphaliniRafinesque, 1815
Genus:PolygoniaHübner, [1819]
Species:c-album(Linnaeus, 1758)
Subspecies:c-album(Linnaeus, 1758)
Form:c-album (Linnaeus, 1758)
 hutchinsoni Robson, 1881

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Looking like a tatty Small Tortoiseshell, the Comma is now a familiar sight throughout most of England and Wales and is one of the few species that is bucking the trend by considerably expanding its range. The butterfly gets its name from the only white marking on its underside, which resembles a comma. When resting with wings closed this butterfly has excellent camouflage, the jagged outline of the wings giving the appearance of a withered leaf, making the butterfly inconspicuous when resting on a tree trunk or when hibernating.

This butterfly was once widespread over most of England and Wales, and parts of southern Scotland, but by the middle of the 1800s had suffered a severe decline that left it confined to the Welsh border counties, especially West Gloucestershire, East Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Monmouthshire. It is thought that the decline may have been due to a reduction in Hop farming, a key larval foodplant at the time. Since the 1960s this butterfly has made a spectacular comeback, with a preference for Common Nettle as the larval foodplant, and it is now found throughout England, Wales, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands and has recently reached Scotland. There have also been a few records from Ireland.

Polygonia c-album ssp. c-album f. c-album

This species was first defined in Linnaeus (1758) as shown here (type locality: Sweden).

The nominate form is found throughout its range.
Comma, Pulborough Brooks (5 September 2011)

Photo © Mark Colvin

Comma (freshly hatched) - Caterham, Surrey 4-Oct-2012

Male Underside
Photo © Vince Massimo

Comma - River Cole Hall Green Birmingham April 11th 2014

Photo © Neil Freeman

Comma female - Belstead Brook Park, Ipswich 2-Aug-2013

Female Underside
Photo © rodosranger

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Polygonia c-album ssp. c-album f. hutchinsoni

This form was first defined in Robson (1881).

This form is found throughout its range and represents individuals that go on to produce a second brood, which differ from those individuals that overwinter as follows:

  • 1. Overall appearance much paler.
  • 2. The underside is especially paler, being yellow-brown with darker markings nearer the body, and with a few green spots and other marks at the wing margins.

Polygonia c-album ssp. c-album f. hutchinsoni (Robson, 1881)

The specimens emerging in early Summer are much paler in hue that those appearing later: the ground colour is about the same as the palest portion of the darker specimens, and all the other markings are paler in proportion. On the underside the differences are even more noticeable, the early form being pale yellow-brown, with rather darker markings towards the base, and a few green spots and marks near the hind margins of both wings.

The Summer form is so different, and so constant in its appearance, that it ought to have a distinctive name, and we suggest it be called var. Hutchinsoni, in compliment to that lady whose liberality has enriched so many cabinets with specimens; whose knowledge of the species, as has already been said, is not exceeded by that of any one living, and to whom we are greatly indebted for information mentioned above.

Comma - Crawley, Sussex 28-July-05

Photo © Vince Massimo

Comma. 16/7/2013 Alfriston, East Sussex.

Male Underside
Photo © badgerbob

Comma f. hutchinsoni Stanwell Moor Middlesex 15th July 2012

Photo © millerd

Comma - imago - Nr Siston Brook, Bristol - Unknown date [Mike Dimery]

Female Underside
Photo © Mike Dimery

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Conservation Status

The Comma is one of the few species that is thriving which is believed to be linked to global warming. Its range has been continually expanding and it has recently reached Scotland where it hasn't been seen since around 1870. As such, this is not a species of conservation concern.

UK BAP StatusDistribution Trend (%)Population Trend (%)
Not Listed

The table above shows the distribution and population trends of species regularly found in the British Isles. The distribution trend represents a comparison between data for the periods 1995-1999 and 2005-2009. The information provided is taken from the Butterfly Conservation report The State of the UK's Butterflies 2011. The UK BAP status is taken from the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP) (2007 review).


This is primarily a woodland butterfly, where it can be seen along woodland rides and country lanes. However, especially in late summer, the butterfly is frequently seen in gardens where it feeds in on nectar sources to build up its fat reserves before entering hibernation.



Click here to see the distribution of this species or here to see the distribution of this species together with specific site information overlaid.

Life Cycle

The butterfly can be seen at any time of the year, occasionally awakening on warm winter days. The butterfly emerges from hibernation in March, giving rise to the next generation which appear at the end of June and start of July. The majority of the offspring have dark undersides and these go on to hibernate. However, the remainder of the offspring have quite light undersides and brighter uppersides, and are known as the form hutchinsoni.

This form is named after Emma Hutchinson who discovered that this form goes on to breed and produce another generation that then overwinter. As a result, there is another peak emergence in late summer, at the end of August and start of September. The trigger for the development of this form is the changing day length as the larva develops. If day length is increasing (before midsummer's day) as the larva develops, then the majority of adults will be the hutchinsoni form that go on to produce another generation, whereas if day length is decreasing, then the majority of adults will be the regular dark form that enter hibernation. The assumption, therefore, is that a good spring will allow for an earlier emergence and more-rapid larval development, resulting in a high proportion of hutchinsoni adults which can then comfortably fit in another brood.

Polygonia c-album ssp. c-album f. c-album

The chart(s) above have been correlated with the phenology plot below, taken from the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme. The blue line gives average counts over the full data set from 1976 to date, and the red line gives the average for the last year.


After emerging from hibernation, both sexes search out nectar sources, such as Sallow flowers or Blackthorn blossom. They also spend a good amount of time basking, favourite surfaces being tree trunks, wood piles, dead bracken and fence posts.

The male butterfly sets up a territory, often on the sunny side of a woodland margin or at the junction of two woodland rides. Here he will sit on a favourite perch awaiting a passing female and will fly up to investigate any passing insect. The male will also make short flights - always returning to the same perch. Even when disturbed, the male will fly off for several metres or so before predictably returning to exactly the same leaf. When egg-laying the female makes short fluttering flights over the foodplant, stopping every few feet, landing on the foodplant and, if suitable, laying a single green egg.

Those adults that hibernate take a good deal of nectar, building up essential fat reserves that will see them through the winter. They are often seen feeding from garden flowers or fruit, such as blackberries or fallen plums. They eventually search out woodland where they find a suitable location in which to hibernate such as a tree trunk, branch, hollow tree or log pile.

Adults feed primarily on Thistles (Cirsium spp. and Carduus spp.). Bramble (Rubus fruticosus), Ivy (Hedera helix), Knapweeds (Centaurea spp.) and Privet (Ligustrum vulgare) are also used.

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Eggs are laid singly on the foodplant, toward the edge of a leaf upperside, each female laying up to 275 eggs. They are normally laid on plants at the margins of woods, in woodland glades and rides or next to a hedgerow. Eggs are green when first laid but eventually turn yellow and ultimately grey just before hatching. This stage lasts between 2 and 3 weeks, depending on temperature.

Comma - ovum - New Arlesford - 13-May-12

Photo © Pete Eeles

Comma Ovum - Somerset - 02/08/15

Photo © William

Comma ova on Hop - Caterham, Surrey 27-July-2013

Photo © Vince Massimo

Comma ovum (right), Red Admiral ovum (left) - Somerset 30-July-2014

Photo © William

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On emerging, the young larva moves to the underside of a leaf where it feeds. As it matures it feeds on the upperside of the leaf and is quite unmistakable, resembling a bird dropping. This stage lasts around 5 weeks, depending on temperature. Larvae of the first brood moult 4 while those of the second brood moult 3 times.

The primary larval foodplant is Common Nettle (Urtica dioica). Currants (various) (Ribes spp.), Elms (various) (Ulmus spp.), Hop (Humulus lupulus) and Willows (various) (Salix spp.) are also used.

Comma larva (second instar) - Caterham, Surrey 30-Aug-2012

Photo © Vince Massimo

Comma - larva - Thatcham - 24-Aug-08 (2)

Photo © Pete Eeles

Comma larva (commencing pupation) - Caterham, Surrey 22-Sept-2012

Photo © Vince Massimo

Comma larva (second instar) - Caterham, Surrey 16-Aug-2012

Photo © Vince Massimo

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The pupa is suspended head down, attached by the cremaster, to either the foodplant, surrounding vegetation or some other suitable platform. The pupa is quite beautiful and the green and brown colouring augmented with a small number of subtle silver spots, together with a jagged outline, give a superb impression of a withered leaf. This stage lasts around 2 weeks.

Comma emerging from pupa, 23/09/2015, Liphook, reared

Photo © Pauline

Comma pupa (3 hours old) - Caterham, Surrey 22-Sept-2012

Photo © Vince Massimo

Comma pupa (22 hours before hatching) - Caterham, Surrey 3-Oct-2012

Photo © Vince Massimo

Comma pupa - Caterham, Surrey 29-Sept-2012

Photo © Vince Massimo

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Description to be completed.

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The following links provide additional information on this butterfly.


The species description provided here references the following publications:

Hübner (1819) Hübner, J. (1819) Verzeichniss bekannter Schmettlinge.
Linnaeus (1758) Linnaeus, C. (1758) Systema Naturae. Edition 10.
Rafinesque (1815) Rafinesque, C.S. (1815) Analyse de la nature ou Tableau de l'univers et des corps organisés.
Robson (1881) Robson, J.E. (1881) The Young Naturalist.