The family Nymphalidae is the largest butterfly family and includes about 6,000 species
which are further divided up into 12 subfamilies. The common name for the family
is the Brushfoots or Brushfooted Butterflies. This strange name is because the first
pair of legs are significantly reduced, sometimes to mere stubs, and look like little
brushes. Some of the most common and well known species are in this group such as
the Monarch, Red Admiral, Blue Morpho and Painted Lady. Some of the longest lived
butterflies are in this family with some species living over 10 months as adults.
The Brushfoots are distributed worldwide, with the highest diversity found in the
tropics. With this variety, there is also quite a difference in behavior, adult
food choices and habitat preference from species to species.
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Polygonia interrogationis belongs to the subfamily Nymphalinae. Its range is from
southern Canada and all of the eastern United States except peninsular Florida, then
west to the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains, and south to southern Arizona and
Mexico. Its preferred habitat includes wooded areas with some open space, city parks,
suburbs and fence rows.
The larval food source includes several trees and plants such as American elm, Ulmus
americanus, red elm, Ulmus rubra, hackberry, Celtis sp., Japanese hop, Humulus japonicus,
nettles, Urtica sp., and false nettle, Boehmeria cylindrica. Males find females
by perching on leaves or tree trunks in the afternoon, pugnaciously flying to chase
other insects, birds, even butterfly photographers. Females lay eggs singly or stacked
under leaves of plants that are usually not the hosts. Caterpillars must find a
host plant and they then eat leaves and live alone. Adults of the winter form hibernate
with some staying in the north, and many others migrating to the south.
Two Question Marks, Polygonia interrogationis, along with one Hackberry Emperor,
Asterocampa celtis, working their way down to a sap flow next to a poison ivy vine
on a post oak. There are a cluster of other butterflies directly below the Question
Marks. One half mile south of Lexington Wildlife Management Area, Cleveland County,
Oklahoma, 11 May 2007 Ref #: I-371-1