17 November 2018

Butterfly of the Month - November 2018

Butterfly of the Month - November 2018
The Common Awl (Hasora badra badra)

A pristine Common Awl perches on a palm leaf

We are into the second last month of 2018 already! We can feel Christmas round the corner when colourful decorations, twinkling lights and the melodious songs of the season echo through the shopping malls and commercial complexes in Singapore. Websites and media scream of Christmas sales and offers of discounts of the holiday season.

The weather in Singapore has also been rather wet, with particularly extreme heavy rains on some days causing flash floods in various areas. Yet, in spite of the extra effort and engineering interventions by our utilities agency, floods can still happen in Singapore - often emphasising the inevitable outcome of man vs nature, when nature is in no mood to negotiate.

For those of us who travel by air regularly, the recent Lion Air crash with 189 fatalities brings a grim reminder to our over-dependence on technology. The anti-stall function and flight speed indicator had apparently malfunctioned, causing the almost brand new plane to plunge into the sea.

The fantasy world of super-heroes lost its iconic creator, Stan Lee, who passed away at the ripe old age of 95. Those who grew up in the era of comic books, waiting with bated breath for the next issue of Spider Man, Fantastic Four, Iron Man and so on, will appreciate the enjoyment of browsing through the pages of a comic book and fantasising about saving the world with our favourite characters.

A typical pose of the Common Awl, perched upside down beneath a leaf

Coming back to reality, this month's feature butterfly for November 2018 is the Common Awl (Hasora badra badra). This drab, medium-sized skipper can be considered moderately common in Singapore with a distribution across urban parks and nature reserves. It is most often found in mangrove areas where its caterpillar host plant, Derris trifoliata and Derris elliptica grows wild.

The Common Awl flies rapidly amongst heavily-shaded habitats where it is usually found, and is more often seen and photographed perched upside down on the undersides of leaves. When disturbed from its perch, it zips off quickly, and selects another perch under which it will try to conceal itself in its typical upside down position.

A Common Awl feeding at the flowers of a Syzygium tree

The species is known to puddle, particularly on damp organic matter or excretions of birds spattered on the top surfaces of forest vegetation. Other sightings of this species, besides being perched on the undersides of leaves, are when the Syzygium trees bloom. The Common Awl is seen feeding at the nectar-rich flowers together with other butterflies.

A newly eclosed female Common Awl showing the upperside hyaline spots on its forewing

The Common Awl is a drab brown on the upperside with the wings usually unmarked in the male. There may be a series of usually 2-3 small subapical spots on the forewing. The female has three large pale yellow hyaline spots in the discal area of the forewing, with the wing bases ochreous.

A Common Awl feeding on the minerals on the damp surface of a brick wall

The underside is brown, with a purplish glazed sub-marginal band that may appear more pronounced depending on the angle of incident light on the wings. A prominent white spot in the cell on the underside of the hindwing is characteristic of this species. There is usually a white streak at the tornal area of the hindwing.

Two female Common Awls, note the large pale yellow hyaline spots visible on the forewing

Sightings of the Common Awl are usually in the early morning hours before 9am and in the late evenings, when the species is more active. Its crepuscular habit makes the species rather elusive during the normal hours when other butterfly species are up and about. However, along mangrove trails and boardwalks, the Common Awl may be often seen at other times of the day if it is disturbed from its slumber.

Text by Khew SK : Photos by David Chan, Foo JL, Khew SK, Loke PF, Jonathan Soong and Horace Tan