My life is about living with nature – here you can live it with me!

Where Adult Butterflies Winter

fallen into the snow
Fallen into the snow!

When temperatures reach – 0°F you don’t expect to find any adult butterflies in your back yard. Ok, here is my story . . . Yesterday I planned on starting a fire in the fireplace to help defray the cost of my gas bill (because temperatures are soo cold). I brought my first load of wood into the house and then returned for my second load! I notice in the white snow something that looked exactly like a butterfly standing up! Naa, it had to be bark right? Nope, with a closer inspection it was an Eastern Comma that fallen out of the woodpile and into the snow!

going back into the woodpile
Being placed back into the woodpile!

Most butterfly species will over winter as a chrysalis, caterpillar or even in the egg stage before continuing its life cycle in the spring and become an adult butterfly. The anglewings and tortoise-shells will over winter as an adult and be our very first butterflies to start flying when temperatures reach the 60’s. They survive the winter by building up natural antifreezes into there bodies once the temperatures start getting colder and then go into a hibernation once it is too cold to be out flying around. This Eastern Comma that I found is currently in the hibernation stage and just waiting for spring to arrive.

Eastern Comma
Eastern Comma (October 2006)

Even before temperatures get cold these butterflies will find a hiding spot to then spend the rest of there winter in them. These locations will include spots under tree bark, behind shingles, or even in small crevices created by woodpiles. Ooo, this poor butterfly . . . I found its hiding spot and now needs my help to survive! After taking a few photos, I placed this butterfly in an area of the wood pile that I will be sure not to move until summertime (and sheltered from predators/weather). It is a harsh way of being reminded of spring but how many others can include Eastern Comma to your year-list (CHECK) during the month of February??

Eastern Comma on Scat
Eastern Comma (September 2002)

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43 responses

  1. Lisa at Greenbow

    Oh man, you are the luckiest. What a jewel to find this time of year. The earliest I have ever seen a butterfly is late February and it was really warm. It was a Mourning Cloak. They sometimes jaunt around on warm winter days.

    12 February 2008 at 6:54 pm

  2. winterwoman

    That last butterfly doesn’t have its proboscis in what it looks like, does it?

    12 February 2008 at 7:40 pm

  3. Ohhh, what a very cool find, Tom, but glad he’s back safe deep in the woodpile waiting for spring! Hope you had a nice, warm fire!

    12 February 2008 at 7:54 pm

  4. Holy smokes! Awesome, I had no idea they did this! I really like Commas, too bad I’ve only seen one once…


    12 February 2008 at 7:58 pm

  5. I had no idea butterflies hibernate. How interesting!

    12 February 2008 at 8:22 pm

  6. Gosh, Mon@rch, I never knew that about butterflies! Thanks for more good information about butterflies.
    The only insects that come in with our firewood are Asian lady beetles and once they get warmed up, they’re flying all over the place!

    12 February 2008 at 9:00 pm

  7. Thats a new one on me Tom, had no idea some butterflies hibernate, thanks for the great info 🙂

    12 February 2008 at 9:02 pm

  8. how kind of you to put it back. ~nita~

    12 February 2008 at 9:15 pm

  9. Tom

    Tom, very cool, a winter comma. Fantastic.


    12 February 2008 at 9:15 pm

  10. In just a minute, I learned a great deal. Commas are the first I see in the spring. Thanks, Tom. You are a great teacher. I’m sure the place you found will keep it safe.

    12 February 2008 at 9:21 pm

  11. Dear Tom,
    I am glad you found a good safe place for Eastern Comma to finish wintering in. Once in awhile I will see a Comma or a Question Mark in the middle of winter. Sometimes we have 3 to 4 days of temperatures in the upper 50’s low 60’s. They will come out for a quick drink and go back into hibernation. How nice to see one when it is cold and snowy!
    My woodpile is just for the butterflies. They are beautiful creatures.

    12 February 2008 at 9:51 pm

  12. @ Lisa – thanks and I just couldn’t believe what I found! How great to have seen the mourning cloak!
    @ Jen – it is feeding on the raccoon scat!
    @ Pam – thanks and great to be able to help!
    @ Nick – Thanks because you’re a herp guy! Thanks
    @ Rondi – they are amazing for sure! Thanks
    @ Ruthie – I am always looking for ways to help spread the word! Our lady bugs are everywhere! Thanks
    @ Bernie – LOL and only a few species winter in the adult form! Thanks
    @ Nita – only the most right thing to do! Thanks
    @ Tom – who would have thunk? Thanks
    @ Mary – That means soo much! Thanks and hope it is a safe place!
    @ Sherry – thanks and how great to see them flying around! Then again it is safe to have those temps during the winter (cool)! Glad you have a woodpile for them!

    12 February 2008 at 10:21 pm

  13. Tom I just had the most wonderful half hour getting caught up reading your posts.
    awesome to have found the Comma!
    I really enjoyed reading about the owl banding with Chuck. I’ll never forget the first owl prowl Don and I went on with him. I am so looking forward to the nature pilgrimage this year. I’m also looking forward to our first bird festival here at Presque Isle.
    Thanks for doing what you do and making it so enjoyable for all of us.

    12 February 2008 at 11:01 pm

  14. I often wonder what different insects do to survive the cold. Thanks for the insight.

    12 February 2008 at 11:46 pm

  15. I really never knew some adult butterflies could survive winters in this kind of cold. Amazing to think they can produce a kind of antifreeze like you said. I’m glad you were able to find him a good place to finish out the winter.

    13 February 2008 at 12:15 am

  16. That is so amazing! I have to say just listening to your knowledge is really cool. And here I would have been the meanie and just thought it was a piece of bark too. Good thing the little guy landed in your snowy yard!! Thanks once again for teaching me.

    13 February 2008 at 2:44 am

  17. Cool!

    13 February 2008 at 4:39 am

  18. I just recently read that both bears and butterflies hibernate. Thanks for the…rest of the story.

    13 February 2008 at 6:25 am

  19. Hi Monarch,
    I’d always wondered how butterflies survived the cold. This is such an interesting and informative post. Sometimes when I read your blog, I feel like all the answers are in front of me, but I just need to learn to interpret them. Thanks for all of this teaching that you do.

    13 February 2008 at 6:44 am

  20. I’ve seen them early, but I don’t think I’ve seen one this early. Good job at putting it back where it will survive until spring.

    13 February 2008 at 8:59 am

  21. MOM

    Very interesting, Tom, will have to follow-up on it in the Spring, MOM

    13 February 2008 at 9:24 am

  22. Well.. you learn something new every day. I had no idea that some butterflies waited out the winter like that. Thanks for sharing Tom!

    13 February 2008 at 11:46 am

  23. TR

    Now that is something I have been wanting to know for a long time — thank you!

    13 February 2008 at 12:10 pm

  24. @ Toni – thanks and I am glad you enjoyed catching up! Sorry it took an hour though!
    @ Lana – insects are soo interesting! I hear fish in waters that freeze can do this also!
    @ Linda – that is amazing for sure! From what I have heard other animals can do it also!
    @ Aullori – thanks and I spend a great deal of time watching butterflies in the summer and if I didn’t do . . I probably would have though bark!
    @ John, thanks
    @ Barb – Bears are not true hibernators! They go into a dormancy and not sure if I should have called these butterflies a hibernator, there is probably a better insect term for it!
    @ Caroline – blush, thanks and sometimes we do have answers infront of us but we still don’t know how to understand them! Including myself!
    @ Marty – thanks and I agree this is probably the earliest myself!
    @ Mom – thanks
    @ Sherri – Certain species but normally they overwinter in a different form!
    @ TR – glad you enjoyed, thanks!

    13 February 2008 at 12:22 pm

  25. What lovely butterflies! I haven’t seen any like the comma around these parts.

    13 February 2008 at 1:05 pm

  26. I had no idea some butterflies created anti-freeze and hibernated! So interesting, you blow me away again.

    13 February 2008 at 1:41 pm

  27. How wonderful! I had no idea they did this.

    I really enjoy reading about your nature experiences – especially on rainy, foggy days like this where I’m stuck inside.

    13 February 2008 at 3:56 pm

  28. Wow, I can’t believe you found one in your wood pile! Do you think he’ll make it for spring?
    Good luck!

    13 February 2008 at 4:27 pm

  29. @ Adam – I doubt you have the “eastern” comma but you must have some of the anglewings around you.
    @ Trixie – other animals besides bugs can do this trix!
    @ M Light – It’s great that a fluke find can help many learn! Thanks
    @ Chicago – isn’t that crazy? I placed him in a safe place, so chances are good! Thanks

    13 February 2008 at 8:11 pm

  30. I didn’t know they hibernated either. I’m so glad that you knew and protected it. Someone else may have just assumed it was a dead frozen butterfly. Lucky butterfly and lucky you.

    13 February 2008 at 10:15 pm

  31. It is really amazing that they can do that! I guess I always just assumed that they moved on to warmer areas.

    13 February 2008 at 10:56 pm

  32. Holy crap. A butterfly in the snow is NOT something you see every day. You learned me something today. I didn’t know that some B-flies overwinter as adults!

    13 February 2008 at 11:22 pm

  33. I had no idea. Thanks for the education.

    14 February 2008 at 12:57 am

  34. That is too cool! Thank you for sharing such ineresting information. I must I a little butterfly in me as much of the winter I feel like I’m going around in a coma too!

    14 February 2008 at 5:42 am

  35. I have photographed several Comma here in England last summer. Do you have the stunning Peacock butterfly in the USA?

    14 February 2008 at 7:46 am

  36. Kaz

    I truly enjoy reading your tidbits. Your photos are always excellent. Is there no end to your talents?!

    Have a wonderful *heart* felt day.

    14 February 2008 at 8:20 am

  37. gardenqueen

    Beautiful and educational. Thank you.

    14 February 2008 at 12:11 pm

  38. @ Robin – thanks and it kinda is a little frozen! Well kinda!
    @ Rurality – It sure is and not all butterflies migrate! Actually very few do!
    @ Susan – Glad you enjoyed this and most butterflies only live a few weeks! The Mourning Cloak can live 11 months!
    @ Marvin – glad you enjoyed!
    @ Vern – Thanks and glad you enjoyed this! Thanks
    @ Chris – I don’t have any around here but I do think we might have one species somewhere here in US!
    @ Kaz – thanks and it is really the animals that make it easy!
    @ Garden – thanks and glad you enjoyed!

    14 February 2008 at 12:15 pm

  39. Wow Tom ~ that’s amazing!
    I meant to tell you a couple of weeks ago that I came across a fat caterpillar walking on the sidewalk when I was walking to the train early in the morning. It really surprised me. I have no idea what kind it was. It was multi-brown colored.

    14 February 2008 at 3:19 pm

  40. floweret

    Ooohs.. interesting!! I haven’t really know that butterflies need to hibernate. I had only thought they migrate. Interesting indeed. =)

    15 February 2008 at 6:41 am

  41. Back in early January we had a brutally (ok, for Florida!) cold few days and I went out to check my tomatoes one day and there was a monarch sitting there. It sat there for a few days on the leaf and wouldn’t move. I knew it was just too darn cold to go anywhere.

    I’d love to see a comma. I wonder if they come down this way?

    15 February 2008 at 12:44 pm

  42. @ Lisa – how amazing and hard to say exactly what it could be! You take any photos?
    @ floweret – thanks and only a few species migrate which include the monarch butterfly! Most live in specific locations there whole life!
    @ Misti – thanks and I have had a few cold mornings where they don’t move far! Hope you took some pictures of it? And, you should have some species of comma in your area !

    15 February 2008 at 5:33 pm

  43. bre101

    wow! that was soo interesting! i didn’t know that about butterfly’s!

    check out bre101 at

    15 February 2008 at 11:34 pm

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