Raising Question Mark butterflies

Question Mark butterfly

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.

Hop leaves

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!

common hops

Question Mark butterfly moms lay their green eggs either singly or in stacks on the leaves, stems or buds of their host plant.

Question Mark butterfly eggs

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.

Question Mark butterfly caterpillar

Question Mark caterpillar

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.

Question Mark caterpillar

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.

Question Mark chrysalis

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.

Question Mark butterfly

Question mark butterfly

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.

Question Mark butterfly

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Comments

  1. says

    I have seen these, or perhaps it was the Comma (I forget exactly how to tell apart but know it has something to do with that question mark marking) in and around my large compost pile which I am sure has lots of rotting things in it! It is always a surprise to see the open wings and then have it almost disappear when the wings close. Beautiful butterflies and I now have quite a large hops vine – yippee!
    Kathy Sturr of the Violet Fern recently posted..Tulip Tree in August

  2. Michael Pollock says

    It’s very easy to raise ? butterfies. My greenhouse is next to a Hackberry tree. One fall I collected seeds and put them in germination trays. Spring came and I had about 100 little tree seedlings doing very well until I went out one day and they had ALL been completely defoliated–one caterpillar per seedling!

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