Angle-wing butterflies

i Jun 2nd 3 Comments by

By John Gerwin

“Angle-wings” refers to a group of well-named butterflies with very angular edges to their wings.


Comma underside

I recently learned that there is reference to “Angel Wings” on the Internet, referring to butterflies, apparently these same ones. A typo no doubt.  But this reminds me that there are tropical butterflies with clear wings, often called, sure enough “Clearwing butterflies”.  I just photographed one species in Nicaragua, which I will include for reference.  To me, a butterfly with clear wings seems more like an angel. But, back to our geometrically-enhanced leps………….

The two common species of angle-wings around our area are the Comma, and Question Mark.  They’re quite similar to each other. Not in a punctuation-syntax way, but rather, morphologically. These are black and orange butterflies, with cryptic, darkly colored patterns underneath that blend in well with the bark of a tree (but not our orange house, as seen below).  It is the underside that best determines the correct syntax, er, species – a shiny crescent on a dark background with or without the diacritical point.  These species exhibit some variation in the amount of black on the upperside of the wings.  They are pugnacious little devils as well, “attacking” all manner of fauna that may walk or fly by too close (and they determine what is “too close”).  Comma and Question Mark larvae feed on nettles and elms; and the Question Mark will also feed on Hackberry.  Both butterfly species are regular in our area, but I see more Question Marks (perhaps a reflection of my general outlook on life).  Indeed, the April 2014 picture included below is my first Comma for the yard.  Adults of both species hibernate over the winter, and you can often find one out and about on a warmer/sunny winter day. Hmmmm, I wonder if anyone saw any angle-wings this past winter.  Notable, adults of these two species seldom visit flowers: they prefer to feed at rotting fruit, tree sap, and/or animal droppings (they would make fine….. well, never mind). Here are images of these butterflies.  Also included is a Question Mark caterpillar from the Uwharries – and, as mentioned, a clearwing species from Nicaragua. As far as I know, no one has described a “Semi-colon” or “Exclamation Point” butterfly – yet.


Comma, dorsal view                                    Comma, underside – note clear “comma”



Question Mark, dorsal view                        Question Mark, underside



Question Mark caterpillar photographed in the Uwharrie Mountains



Clearwing species of butterfly photographed in Nicaraqua

All photos by John Gerwin


  1. Marianne
    March 12, 2017 at 4:59 am

    A very informative explanation of the differences and similarities. We were able to ID our sighting. Thank you.

  2. Donna Graham
    October 4, 2017 at 8:02 pm

    Hello, recently have had an angle on my hummer feeder in West Virginia(Oct 4, 2017) and since the hummers have left, there must be a little ‘sauce’ at the bottom.
    What a magnificent creature. I thoroughly enjoyed your write-up and this is probably only one of two comments I have ever left on the net; am not a social media ‘butterfly’, that just came into my head.

    Nice photos and the caterpillar is stunning too. The butterfly’s wings look a little ‘dragony’.

    Best, Donna Lee

  3. Diane Robins
    November 20, 2017 at 10:29 am

    About nine weeks ago I found one of these beautiful butterflies on its side on my patio,I picked it up and placed it on a tissue,put a chunk of orange and placed it on the orange ,after a few minutes it started to move and flew into my window ,I have been placing soft apple or orange ,the window has a radiator so always warm. I am reluctant to try and catch it ,as don’t want to harm it, I’m worried in case it should be outside,your advice would be helpful ,it’s a comma type other name I think is Angel,Wings


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