The Comma Butterfly is widespread throughout the south of England and into the midlands. Commoner now than at the beginning of last century, it is seen in many orchards in the south at windfall time, being strongly attracted to the fruit. Commas breed in open spaces, edges of woodland and in wilder gardens.
The favourite foodplant in the wild is probably the stinging nettle, but the larvae are found on widely differing plants, from shrubs to climbers and even trees, including sallow, gooseberry, currant, hop and elm.
Hibernation is in the adult stage. The butterflies don't come into buildings like the Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock but select wild places. After hibernation, eggs are laid in April and May. The first eggs produce the pale form (hutchinsoni) and the later eggs develop into the normal darker form. The hutchinsoni produce the second brood, whilst the remainder, which are more numerous, hibernate fairly quickly. The following spring breeding takes place and the butterflies of both the first and the second brood (which comes to hibernation later in the autumn) join forces and form the spring breeding colony.
Eggs are laid singly or in very small groups on the upper surface of the leaf. The caterpillars live solitarily under the leaf, peppering it with holes. After several changes of colour they attain a curious half-and-half appearance, the front half brown and the rear half pure white on the back. The mature caterpillar is covered with immaculately white branched spines.
The unusually indented wing-edges of the butterfly are unique to this species in Britain. In the male the indentations are more acute than in the female. On the underside the male has a more intricate brown and ochre patterning, the female’s markings being comparatively plain and usually rather dark. The patterning and shade of both sides of the wings vary, however, and there is a seasonal light-coloured form (f. hutchinsoni) which occurs in a proportion of the first brood progeny in July. The butterflies rest with wings outstretched on a flat surface or bush in full sunlight, often basking for long periods. They're fond of bramble blossom and are attracted into gardens by buddleia, sedum, michaelmas daisy and many other flowers, and especially by fruit. They have a swift flight and shoot off if disturbed, but they will often come back again after flying in a wide circle.