A Green Comma in Stony Swamp

Green Comma (Old Quarry Trail, June 2019)

Once again I’m behind in my blogging – it seems once spring arrives, I end up with too many photos and too many stories I want to tell, and not enough time to do any actual blogging! I’m so far behind on my blog that I haven’t even finished all my posts from 2019 – so much for getting caught up over the winter, then during the early weeks of the pandemic – and I’m even behind on sorting my photos from last year.

I could try to write less and post more photos, but I don’t want this to turn into the type of blog that says “I went here and I saw this, and this and this”. I like to research a bit about the species I’ve photographed, and find something interesting to say about them. My feeling about nature photography is that a picture is rarely worth a thousand words; it shows one species or one scene in just one moment in time. It rarely says anything about that creature’s life cycle, its distribution, how common it is, whether its population is booming or declining, its relationship to other species, and any other “fun facts” that make that creature worth getting to know. This is why I stay away from social media sites that focus on pure photography and look for the ones that get into identification or discussion.

So what does that have to do with the eponymous Green Comma in Stony Swamp?

I was on vacation last week, and decided that, when sorting photos from earlier this spring, I would also sort photos from last year as well. I thought perhaps I could do go through one old folder and one new folder per day. This usually entails posting my best photos to my photo gallery on Pbase, eBird checklist and iNaturalist before moving them into the folders for individual species; these days I try to upload all my photos to eBird and iNat on the day of my outing, but I hadn’t implemented that rule until much later in 2019. After that I decide if I have enough material to start a blog post on a particular theme. My last unsorted photo set was from June 8, 2019, which contained a few butterfly images from Old Quarry Trail that weren’t worth a whole blog post – I take a lot of photos solely as records of observations of what I saw, and where. The images weren’t on iNaturalist and didn’t have GPS coordinates attached to them, so I initially wasn’t going to upload them there. Then I looked at the photos of the comma I had and realized I wasn’t entirely sure what it was. My spreadsheet of butterflies seen in 2019 listed it as Eastern Comma, so I figured I’d upload it to iNaturalist to see what it said – iNat uses computer vision to provide automated taxon identification suggestions, and is quite good in most cases. If you uploaded a decent picture of a Blue Jay, it will suggest Blue Jay as the most likely identification, followed by other similar-looking birds (both native and non-native, although it will say if that species is found nearby). If you upload a bad picture of a blob, it probably won’t be able to help you.

Curious, I uploaded my photos of the comma and was flabbergasted when it suggested Green Comma. This is a species I’ve only seen once for certain, on a camping trip in Algonquin Park in 2011. I’ve never seen one in Ottawa (that I know of) but commas are difficult unless they land for more than a moment, and you get good looks at both sides of the wings.

Green Comma (Old Quarry Trail, June 2019)

The two most common commas in Stony Swamp are Eastern Comma and Gray Comma, and they can be told apart through photos that show complete details of both sides of the wings. I re-examined my photos, but they were not the best – I could not quite see the shape of the silvery mark on the underside of the hindwing, but it looked more like the checkmark of a Gray Comma than the curved “smile” of an Eastern Comma. I left my initial identification as Polygonia species to see what other local naturalists would say – there a few who seem to identify any butterfly photo I post as soon as it’s uploaded. When the consensus came back as Green Comma I was delighted. One person even noted that it was a good find, as they are scarce in Stony Swamp.

Green Comma (Old Quarry Trail, June 2019)

I asked what field mark they looked at to determine Green Comma, but for the most part the response was that it isn’t really a “field mark”, it’s an overall look that they are familiar with after looking at “thousands of them over the years”! They mentioned the wide, dark border on the hindwing, which has an abrupt transition to the paler colour of the basal area, not a gradual transition as in Gray Comma. The yellow spots in that dark margin are good-sized, and the large dark spot in the center of the hind wing eliminates Gray Comma. The relative size and color of the forewing dark spots also helps to separate it from Eastern Comma.

Unfortunately this left me with no one particular, iron-clad field mark that would help me to separate Green Comma from the other species; I guess I will just have to photograph every one I see in the future, and hope to get a good enough look at it to determine what it is. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I see another Green Comma!

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