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Butterfly Conservation- Glasgow & South West Scotland Branch

Comma (Polygonia c-album)


The Comma is an attractive tawny red and black butterfly, named for the small white comma mark on the brown mottled underside of its hindwing (wingspan 50-64mm). The Comma is easily recognised by its distinctive ragged wing outline, which helps camouflage the resting or hibernating adult when its wings are closed. The female tends to be larger than the male, but otherwise the sexes are quite similar. There are two colour forms of Comma: In Spring, the first brood of caterpillars produce the form Hutchisoni that have golden-brown underwings and paler orange upperwings. Later summer broods produce ‘normal’ Commas. Until recently, the occasional sighting of a Comma in South West Scotland was thought to be of vagrants from northern England, however increased numbers of sightings suggest that it is now successfully overwintering and likely breeding in our area.

Credit: Louise Collins
Credit: Louise Collins
Credit: Louise Collins

Life Cycle

There have been too few observations of the Comma in South West Scotland to comment on any differences in life cycle here, and as of yet no caterpillars have been found in Scotland. In England and Wales, during late March or early April the mated females lay their beach-ball shaped green-brown eggs singly on the upper surface of common nettles (Urtica dioica), the preferred larval food plant. Hop (Hummulus lapulus), elms (Ulmus Spp.), currents (Ribes Spp.) and willows (Salix Spp.) may occasionally also be used. The caterpillars are black and orange with a white streak along their back, which gives them the appearance of a bird dropping. They initially feed inside a silken web on the underside of the leaf, before moving to the upper surface when larger. The pupa resembles a dead leaf and is suspended from the food plant or in thick vegetation. After emergence, some of the first brood of adults concentrate on feeding and show no interest in reproduction before going into hibernation. The remainder of the first brood set about finding mates and produce a second generation which emerge in late summer. This generation of adults again concentrate on feeding, being particularly attracted to Ivy flowers, buddleia, thistles and fallen fruit, before hibernating camouflaged among dead leaves.

Flight Times

In South West Scotland there have been sightings of Commas between April and May relating to the spring generation, as well as between August and late October relating to the late Summer generation.

Habitat & Distribution in SW Scotland

Distribution map 2010

The Comma favours open woodland, woodland edges or hedgerows with large sun-lit patches of nettles. It has shown a dramatic northwards range expansion in Britain, particularly up the east coast. In Scotland, the Comma is now well established in the south east and is increasingly being recorded in the south west. A high density of sightings in the Motherwell area including multiple Commas visiting a garden at the same time, suggest this butterfly may be breeding along the Clyde. The expansion in the Comma’s range and notable increases in its abundance appear to be related to climate warming.

The Comma is known to have a very dynamic range in the UK. It was known in eastern Scotland in the early-19th century being found as far north as Fife and Alloa, Clackmannanshire in the east but it was absent in western Scotland. After 1850, the Comma was in decline with the last 19th century record being for Denholm, the Borders in 1868.

By the 1920s, the Comma's distribution in England had retreated to the west Midlands and then exapnded again in the 1930s reaching Lancashire & South Yorkshire by 1950 & Durham by 1976. By 1995-1999, the Comma had reached the Scottish borders with a few scattered records in Dumfries & Galloway. Since then, the Comma has spread north and west into Ayrshire, Lanarkshire and the Lothians. The above photos were taken in a Motherwell garden in 2008.


  • Futter, K., Sutcliffe, R., Welham, D., Welham, A., Rostron, A., MacKay, J., Gregory, N., McCleary, J., Tait, T., Black, J. & Kirkland, P. 2006. Butterflies of South West Scotland. Argyll Publishing. (see Atlas page)
  • Asher, J., Warren, M, Fox, R., Harding, P., Jeffcoate, G., Jeffcoate, S. 2001. The Millennium Atlas of Butterflies in Britain & Ireland. Oxford University Press.
  • Fox, R, Asher, J, Brereton, T, Roy, D & Warren, M. 2006. The State of Butterflies in Britain & Ireland. Pisces Publications.
  • Thomson, G. 1980. The Butterflies of Scotland. Croom Helm, London.
  • Tomlinson, D. & Still, R. 2002. Britain’s Butterflies. WILDGuides

Written by Scott Shanks & Andrew Masterman

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