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Question Mark Butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis)


Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Question Mark Butterfly



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Raised wings raise questions about the small white stamp on the underside of the Question Mark Butterfly's wing.



Updated: 07/07/2021; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
The tops of the wings on the Question Mark are orange and black; hindwings are mostly black. The color underneath the wings is quite different: dark brown and gray. The Question Mark could look like two separate butterflies if seen with its wings up and then its wings down. The edges of its wings are elegantly sculpted in graceful curves. The hindwing tips have short tails. The white question mark on the underside of the forewings is small and incomplete, but the curve and dot are clear.

Males perch on branches, surveying their territory and scouting for females. They chase away intruders like other butterflies, flying insects, and sometimes small birds. Up until the end of May, females lay fertilized eggs on leaves that are near a host plant, forcing newly hatched larvae to travel to get their first meal. Caterpillars feed on the leaves of elm trees, hackberry, nettles, and false nettles. Their bodies are a mix of orange, red, black, and white speckles depending on maturity. All caterpillars are covered in fierce looking spikes that branch out among even more spikes. They resemble the spines of a barrel cactus. These spines and spikes change color as the caterpillar matures and its body changes color: reddish with red-orange spikes, or black and yellow body with yellow spikes. Adults prefer drinking juices from rotting fruit, sap, dung, and carrion, but they will settle for flower nectar if these more pungent food sources are not available.

Some adults will migrate south to avoid cold winters, others hibernate in shelters up north. They can be found in cities, parks, suburbs, gardens, and meadows.




General Characteristics
Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon




Taxonomic Hierarchy
Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Lepidoptera
        Family: Nymphalidae
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          Genus: Polygonia
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            Species: interrogationis
Identifying Information
Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Polygonia interrogationis
Category: Butterfly or Moth
Size (Adult; Length): 52mm to 76mm (2.04" to 2.99")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: orange, black, white, brown, ivory
Descriptors: flying, tails, points

Question-Mark-Butterfly Video(s)




A family of Question Mark larvae holding on tight during a windy day.
Relative Size Comparison
Typical Size Between 52mm (2.0in) and 76mm (3.0in)
Lo: 52mm
Md: 64mm
Hi: 76mm
Territorial Map*
U.S., Canada, and Mexico
State of Alabama graphic
State of Arizona graphic
State of Arkansas graphic
State of California graphic
State of Colorado graphic
State of Delware graphic
State of Florida graphic
State of Georgia graphic
State of Idaho graphic
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State of Kentucky graphic
State of Louisiana graphic
State of Maine graphic
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State of Minnesota graphic
State of Mississippi graphic
State of Missouri graphic
State of Montana graphic
State of Nebraska graphic
State of Nevada graphic
State of New England graphic
State of New Jersey graphic
State of New Mexico graphic
State of New York graphic
State of North Carolina graphic
State of North Dakota graphic
State of Ohio graphic
State of Oklahoma graphic
State of Oregon graphic
State of Pennsylvania graphic
State of South Carolina graphic
State of South Dakota graphic
State of Tennessee graphic
State of Texas graphic
State of Utah graphic
State of Virginia graphic
State of Washington graphic
State of West Virginia graphic
State of Wisconsin graphic
State of Wyoming graphic
Canadian territory of Alberta graphic
Canadian territory of British Columbia graphic
Canadian territory of Manitoba graphic
Canadian territory of New Brunswick graphic
Canadian territory of Newfoundland and Labrador graphic
Canadian territory of Ontario graphic
Canadian territory of Quebec graphic
Canadian territory of Saskatchewan graphic
Territory map graphic of the country of Mexico
Contiguous United States shape map layer graphic
Alaska  
Hawaii  
Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Question Mark Butterfly may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Question Mark Butterfly. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.

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