The wingspan of this species is two and one-half to three inches. There is a short tail present on each hindwing. The upperside of the wings is orange-brown with scattered dark spots and a patch of solid, darker color near the wing base. There is one, white spot at the forward edge of each wing. The underside of the wings is gray-brown, mottled and darker toward the center. There is a small, white mark in the center of each hindwing.
The adult of Compton’s tortoiseshell feeds on tree sap, rotten fruit and minerals from the soil. It overwinters as an adult. New adults are present from July through November before becoming inactive. This species is a resident in locations further north than Illinois, and populations exist in Wisconsin and Michigan. It is believed that the species does not reproduce in Illinois, but in years of abundance in Wisconsin and Michigan, wanderers do appear in the northern counties of the state.