Question Mark butterflies can be elusive if you don’t know how to attract them to your beautiful wildlife garden. They are drawn more to sap runs (often created by woodpeckers) and rotting fruit than the flowers in your yard. If you have a plum or cherry tree you may see these and other butterflies feeding from the over-ripe fruit that falls on the ground.
Native host plants for the Question Mark butterfly include the American hackberry tree (Celtis occidentalis), American elm tree (Ulmus americana) and common hops (Humulus lupulus). Hops are easy to grow on a support like a lattice or arbor, but be aware that they will spread by underground runners even if you think you are containing them inside the boundaries of a raised bed!
Question Mark butterfly moms lay their green eggs either singly or in stacks on the leaves, stems or buds of their host plant.
In a few days the caterpillars hatch and begin to eat their host plant. As they mature they develop into a variety of colors ranging from cream and brown to a dark orange and black combination.
The following photo shows the caterpillar just after it shed its skin. Notice how the wad of discarded skin becomes the dot on the question-mark posture of the caterpillar. But this is not what gives the butterfly its odd name.
After eating for a couple of weeks the caterpillar sheds its skin a last time to reveal the chrysalis underneath. This is the only caterpillar that I’ve seen that can spin pink colored silk to anchor its pupa.
After 10-15 days the adult butterfly emerges. And now for the reason for its odd name… notice the shiny silver question mark design on the underside of its lower wing.
Okay, I know it’s not an exact likeness, but apparently enough that the name seemed fitting. This butterfly likes to get drunk on fermenting fruit and spends much of its time perched facing upside-down.
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