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New Jersey Endangered and Threatened Species Field Guide
Species Group: Invertebrate
The upperside of the Gray Comma is bright orange-brown. The summer form has a hindwing with a wide dark border. The summer form is also more uniformly colored below. The winter form has the border covering only about 1/4 of the wing; both contain a few small yellow spots. The winter form is lighter above with minimal black spotting, and is more two-toned beneath. The underside of the Gray Comma is charcoal gray with fine dark striations; forewing with 3-4 light arrows in a dark border. There is a small, silver L-shaped or comma-shaped mark in the center of the hindwing. This marking is often used as the key identifying characteristic. The gray comma has a wingspan between 1 5/8 and 2 inches.
DISTRIBUTION AND HABITAT
The gray comma’s range is from the Northwest Territories and British Columbia, southeast through Montana, Utah, Colorado, and the Dakotas to eastern Nebraska, central Kansas, and central Arkansas; east through southern Canada and the northern United States to Maine and the Maritimes; and south in the Appalachians to North Carolina. Within New Jersey, it is localized, known only within a small area of Hunterdon County.
The gray comma habitat is often found along dirt roads, streamsides, and within clearings in rich deciduous or coniferous woods, in aspen parks, yards, and gardens. They are also often found in hilly terrain or canyons.
Caterpillars often feed on gooseberries and azaleas. The adult butterflies of the gray comma feed primarily on sap from trees unlike many other butterfly species. They rarely feed on flower nectar.
The life history of the gray comma is interesting. Like the Eastern comma, the gray comma is bivoltine throughout its range. The second generation over-winters as adults, to fly the following spring, often quite early; there are therefore three flight periods. The very earliest reports are in March, April and May. As Scudder put it, Gray Comma is “one of the first to feel the approach of spring, reappearing on sunny days at the end or even by the middle of March”. Toward the close of April and early in May it flies in considerable numbers and continues upon the wing until early in June, occasionally to the middle. The eggs are laid apparently about the middle of May.
The second or summer generation appears in the first days of July, sometimes as soon as late June. Therefore, they are abundant before during mid-July and continue to be seen until mid-August. It is this July flight that most observers see today.
Gray commas appear again in late August. They become abundant again by early September, and continue to emerge from the chrysalis until mid-September. This fall brood could be seen all through September. By the middle of October nearly all of them have sought their winter quarters beneath a tree-limb or in some sheltered refuge.
CURRENT STATUS, THREATS, AND CONSERVATION
The gray comma is considered a globally secure species. Therefore, there are very few management practices specifically addressing this species. However, in some cases declines have been noticed due to habitat loss from logging practices and urbanization.
In 2015, the New Jersey Endangered and Nongame Advisory Committee recommended a Threatened status for this species within the state, but no formal rule proposal has been filed to date.
Text written by Michael Colella in 2015.
- Butterflies and Moths of North America
- Massachusetts Audubon
- Encyclopedia of Life
Species: P. progne
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