Medium-sized butterfly with a wingspan up to 2-5/8 inches. Females are much larger than males; the wings of males have concave outer margins. Adults are geographically variable. The upperside of the forewing is orange-brown. The upperside of the hindwing is orange with black submarginal spots in one form, and all black in the other form. The underside of both hindwings is pale golden brown. The forewing has two brown bars in the cell, no white spots, and no eyespots near the outer margin. The borders of the hindwing can be mainly orange or mainly black. Both surfaces of the hindwing have prominent eyespots. The caterpillar is green with broad yellow and white stripes, a dark bluish-green mid-dorsal line, and two short tails at the rear. The head resembles a shield; there are short spines on the sides and two short, branched, black-tipped horns on the top. The pupa is pale green with small yellow spots, two yellow lateral lines and diagonal yellow lines on the sides of the abdomen.
Southern New England south to Florida; west to North Dakota and southern parts of New Mexico and Arizona.
Distribution and Abundance in Florida:
Locally common in West Florida and North Florida March-October; locally uncommon in Central Florida March-November; locally rare in South Florida February-November; not present in Keys. Often found in association with hackberry emperor (Asterocampa celtis) butterflies, which usually are more abundant.
Densely wooded riparian areas, open disturbed areas, wooded residential areas and parks.
One brood per year in northern parts of range from June-August; two to three broods in Florida and southern Louisiana from March-November. Eggs are laid in large stacked groups of 200-500 on the bark or the underside of mature leaves of the host plants.
Males perch on leaves in full sun, waiting for females. Young larvae feed on younger leaves and move in groups, following silk trails made by other larvae. If threatened, larvae try to bite with their mandibles, which may help deter ants and other predators. Older caterpillars hibernate in groups of about ten inside a dead curled leaf.
Caterpillars feed on older leaves of trees in the hemp family (Cannabaceae), including hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) and sugarberry (Celtis laevigata). Adults feed on tree sap, rotting fruit, dung, and carrion, but almost never visit flowers.