Polygonia gracilis
Hoary Comma

Family Description:
Alternate Common Name:
Hoary Anglewing.
Note: This species is composed of at least two subspecies, P. gracilis gracilis and P. gracilis zephyrus. They occur in different ranges as described below. P. gracilis zephyrus was previously described as an independent species, the Zephyr Anglewing.
Caterpillar: The caterpillar is black, marked along the top with orange at the front and with white along the rest of the body. There are black "v"-shaped marks along the back, whitish and black rings between segments, and irregular reddish lines on the side. The body is covered with spines of different colors – red, white, and black. The black head is sometimes marked with orange and has two black horns.
Adult: The butterfly is medium-sized (wingspan 1 3/8 to 2 1/4 inches), with irregular wing borders and a small tail extending from the hindwing. The upperside is dark orange with a thick, dark brown border. There are several black spots in the center of the forewing, and a row of yellowish spots along the border. The hindwing has two black spots and a row of yellow spots. Underneath is mottled with several shades of brown and gray, with the inner half noticeably darker than the outer half (the outer half may appear frosty or "hoary"). The underside of the hindwing has a white, comma-shaped mark near the center.

Subspecies zephyrus ranges from southern British Columbia and Alberta south to southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico, with isolated populations in the western Dakotas and Nebraska. It occurs throughout most of Idaho. Subspecies gracilis ranges from central Alaska south and east across southern Canada to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, and does not occur in Idaho.

It occurs in and along forests, in valleys, and along streams and rivers.


Caterpillar: Caterpillars feed on the leaves of a variety of shrubs, including currant (Ribes spp.), wild rhododendron (Rhododendron spp.), and mock azalea (Menziesia glabella).
Adult: Butterflies drink flower nectar, often from rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus spp.), and may obtain additional moisture and nutrients from sap and mud.

There is typically one generation of caterpillars each summer. Caterpillars rest on the undersides of leaves. Butterflies emerge from chrysalises later in summer, and may fly to higher elevations to feed. Returning back down in the fall, they then overwinter in a physiological state called diapause until spring, when they emerge to mate and lay eggs.

Males perch to wait for receptive females. Females lay eggs on the leaves and petioles of host plants.

Idaho Status: Unprotected nongame species.
Global Rank:

G5; populations are widespread, abundant, and secure.

Ferris, C. D. and F. M. Brown. (eds.) 1981. Butterflies of the Rocky Mountain States. Univ. of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Oklahoma, USA, 442 pp.

Opler, P. A., H. Pavulaan, and R. E. Stanford. 1995. Butterflies of North America. Jamestown, North Dakota, USA: Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center Home Page. http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/distr/lepid/bflyusa/bflyusa.htm (Version 05Nov98).

Opler, P. A. and A. B.Wright. 1999. A Field Guide to the Western Butterflies.   Second Edition.  Peterson Field Guide Series. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, New York, USA, 540 pp.

Pyle, R. M. 1981. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, New York, USA, 924 pp.

Scott, J. A. 1986. The Butterflies of North America. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, USA, 583 pp.

Stanford, R. E. and P. A. Opler. 1993. Atlas of Western U.S.A. Butterflies (Including Adjacent Parts of Canada and Mexico). Published by authors, Denver, Colorado, USA, 275 pp.