Lepidoptera The Comma Butterfly – Vanessa C-album
Leaving the Fritillaries, we now come to a genus (Vanessa) that includes seven most beautiful butterflies, some of which are so common as to be known to almost everybody.
It will be observed that this genus belongs to the same family as the Fritillaries, and we may therefore expect to find that the two groups possess features in common. A slight examination of a few in their different stages will show that this is so. Thus, the perfect insects have only four walking legs, the caterpillars are all spiny, and the chrysalides are angular.
There is another feature concerning the chrysalides worthy of note. Like some of the pupa of the Fritillaries, they are adorned more or less with brilliant metallic spots, sometimes of a rich golden hue, and sometimes resembling burnished silver. Now the word ‘chrysalis,’ which, as we have already seen, is derived from a Greek word meaning ‘gold,’ was originally applied to the pupa of some of the Vanessas, on account of their metallic decorations, but it has since been extended to the pupa of all the Lepidoptera, and also to other orders of insects, even though the greater number of them display no tints of the precious metal.
The first member for our consideration is the Comma Butterfly, of which an illustration is given in Plate III, fig. 7. No one could mistake this beautiful butterfly for any other British species, for its wings of rich orange brown, with black and dark-brown markings, are so irregularly scalloped on the hind margins that they present a somewhat ragged appearance. Its name is derived from the fact that a white mark something like the letter C, or, as some have it, like a comma, is distinctly painted on the dark brown of the under side.
This butterfly generally emerges from the chrysalis late in the summer-August and September, but it is often seen earlier, and frequently as late as October. It is a great lover of sweets, and may be found settled on various flowers and fruits. Its chief food plants are the hop (Humulus Lupulus), red currant (Ribes rubrum), stinging nettle (Urtica dioica), and the Elm (Ulmus campestris).
It is very abundant in certain districts where hops are grown, but seems to avoid those counties that border the sea. It is widely distributed in the midland counties, and extends to the north of England and into Scotland, but is very capricious in its appearance in many parts.
The eggs are laid in May by females that have hybernated through the winter, and the caterpillars may be found feeding during July and August.
The caterpillar is coloured grey and brown, with a black head, and a broad white stripe down the back of the hindermost segments. The body is armed with a number of spines, some of which are white, and others pale brown.
The chrysalis is a very peculiar object, having two ear-like projections extending forwards from the sides of the head. It has a number of angular projections, and is of an umber-brown colour, finely netted with black lines, and having several spots of a brilliant metallic lustre.