Skippers in your garden

One of the strongest and swiftest of butterflies, the Common Banded Awl belonging to the Skipper family, is a common sight in Bangalore, thanks to the honge tree.

I am fortunate to live on Cookson Road in east Bangalore. It is well-shaded with an excellent density of roadside trees. My apartment block is in a cul-de-sac and my immediate neighbor is a lady well-known for having the best garden in the city .In front of her bungalow (the last few remaining in the area) is a Lantana bush which is visited by a lot of butterflies, one of which happens to be the Common Banded Awl.

The Common Banded Awl belongs to the family of butterflies called Hesperiidae, commonly known as Skippers. This is the third largest family of butterflies having approximately 3,500 species worldwide of which over 300 are found in India. The Skippers are small and very active, possessing probably the strongest flight among butterflies.

The Common Banded Awl is usually found flying during early mornings and late evenings. Pic: Vikram Nanjappa

The Common Banded Awl (Hasora chromus) is dark brown in colour with a white band at the centre of the underside of the hind wings. There are three other species of Awls that have white bands and the only way to tell them apart is by the differences in the white band! But we will not go into that – let the field guides take care of that.

The Common Banded Awl is the most common of the larger skippers with a wingspan of 45-50 millimeters, and is usually found near streams and rivers, being more visible during the monsoon and immediate post season. It has a wide distribution in India and is also found in South East Asia and Australia.

The two sexes look similar, with the males having streaks of special scent scales and brands on the fore wing. They have large eyes because of which their heads are also unusually large for butterflies. This is an adaptation to accommodate the large eyes. The large eyes are suited to their activity pattern.

The Common Banded Awl
Description: Dark brown in colour with a white band at the centre of the underside of the hind wings, large eyes, black spot on lower corner of the underside of hind wing (not visible in field)
Commonly found: On the Honge tree, which is their preferred host plant
Characteristics: Fly during early mornings and late evenings
Usually does not fly long distances, even though it’s a strong and swift flier
They almost never bask unlike other butterflies.
Feeds on most flowers but has a weakness for Lantana

These butterflies can usually be found flying during early mornings and late evenings, and on cloudy days, during the afternoon. Like all Skippers it is a strong and swift flier, but it usually does not sustain its flight over long distances, it sort of bounds around. This does not mean that it cannot fly long distances. In fact because of its strong flight it is a good colonizer of new areas and they fly long distances in search of host plants and mates .It is also extremely wary and prone to flight in case of any movement in its close proximity.

Unlike most butterflies the Common Banded Awl almost never basks. When it does it sits on the upper side of leaves. While resting it prefers the under sides. As they are very wary by nature, they remain alert even while resting.

The Common Banded Awl feeds from most flowers but has a weakness for Lantana. They also visit wet soil patches. The Honge (Indian Beech) tree (Pongamia pinnata) is the preferred host plant for the larva though two other species of trees also play host. Bangalore is fortunate in having a large number of Honge trees and if we are able to retain as many small gardens as possible (with a lot of flowers including Lantana) we can continue to have a healthy population of these beautiful Skippers.

Comments:

  1. Deepa Mohan says:

    Thanks for the info…could you also tell us how to id the Common Banded Awl as against the other Skippers? These small butterflies are not easy to id, especially as they are sometimes restless.

  2. Vikram Nanjappa says:

    The easiest way is to look for the white band on the wings which is clearly visible even in the photograph that accompanies the article.

  3. Usha Srinath says:

    great series of articles. just what i was looking for. i have an urban garden and it is so nice to be able to identify the butterflies, squirrels, etc. thanks

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