The Common Wood-nymph can vary greatly. All individuals are brown with two fore wing eyespots, the lower one often being larger than the upper one. Some may have many, few, or no eyespots on the ventral surface of the hind wing. In the southeastern part of its range, it has a large yellow patch on both surfaces of the fore wing. In the western part of its range, it may have a pale yellow patch or may be lacking one. Individuals in the northeastern also lack the yellow patch, i.e., C. p. nephele. In individuals with no yellow patch, there are two pale yellow eye rings that encircle both the fore wing eyespots. The wingspan measures 5.3 to 7.3 cm (2.1 to 2.9 in).
The following subspecies are recognised:
- Cercyonis pegala abbotti (Brown, 1969)
- Cercyonis pegala alope (Fabricius, 1793) – Texas
- Cercyonis pegala ariane (Boisduval, 1852) – Oregon, Utah
- Cercyonis pegala blanca (Emmel & Mattoon, 1972)
- Cercyonis pegala boopis (Behr, 1864) – British Columbia
- Cercyonis pegala damei (Barnes & Benjamin, 1926)
- Cercyonis pegala ino (Hall, 1924) – prairies
- Cercyonis pegala nephele (Kirby, 1837) – northern Canada and US
- Cercyonis pegala olympus (Edwards, 1880)
- Cercyonis pegala pegala (Fabricius, 1775) - eastern US
- Cercyonis pegala stephensi (Wright, 1905)
- Cercyonis pegala texana (Edwards, 1880) – Texas
- Cercyonis pegala wheeleri (Edwards, 1873)
In the western part of the Common Wood-nymph's range, there are a few similar species. The Great Basin Wood-nymph (Cercyonis sthenele) and the Small Wood-nymph (Cercyonis oetus) are smaller, and the lower fore wing eyespot is smaller than the upper one. Mead's Wood-nymph (Cercyonis meadii) has a bright red-orange area on the ventral fore wing.
Range and distribution
The Common Wood-nymph is found from mid-May to early October in the eastern part of its range. It is found from late June to early July in California and Arizona. It has 1 brood per year throughout its entire range.
Adult food sources
- Asclepias tuberosa – Butterfly Weed
- Cirsium arvense – Canada Thistle
- Cirsium vulgare – Bull Thistle
- Daucus carota – Wild Carrot
- Dipsacus sylvestris - Teasel
- Monarda fistulosa – Wild Bergamot
- Pycnanthemum virginianum – Virginia Mountain Mint
- Rudbeckia hirta – Black-eyed Susan
- Trifolium pratense – Red Clover
- Vernonia gigantea – Tall Ironweed
The female Common Wood-nymph is the active flight partner. The female lays her eggs on or near the host plant. The egg is pale yellow, later turning to a tan color with orange or pink blotches. The caterpillar makes no shelters or nests. It is green or yellowish-green with darker green stripes that run the length of the body. It has two short pinkish projections on the end of the abdomen. It has yellow spiracles and is covered in thin, white hairs. The caterpillar will reach a length of 5 cm (2 in). The Common Wood-nymph caterpillar is very similar to satyr caterpillars in the genera Hermeuptychia, Cyllopsis, and Neonympha. It can be separateed by its larger size and habitat. The pale green chrysalis is striped in white or pale yellow. The first instar caterpillar hibernates.
- Andropogon sp. – beard grasses
- Danthonia spicata – Poverty Oatgrass
- Poa pratensis – Kentucky Bluegrass
- Schizachyrium sp. – bluestems
- Tridens flavus – Purple top
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