The Anshi National Park consists of 340 sq km of pristine tropical evergreen forest in Uttara Kannada, bordering forests of Goa on the west and the Dandeli National Park in the north. In the ’90s, standing near a bamboo patch, I was looking for the mock nests of babblers when a large insect fluttered in front of me. The insect settled on a cluster of dry leaves nearby and disappeared. A few minutes of searching and I finally located the insect. Yellowish-brown, the large moth had lovely patterns of maroon and pink. Despite its lovely colours, it was well hidden amongst the leaves. Each of its wings has eye-like markings, which were like mirrors. When I got close enough, I could see my reflection in these ‘mirrors’.
I had chanced upon a Tussar Silk Moth (Antheraea paphia). These moths are part of a group called the Emperor Moths or Saturnids. Most Saturnids are large (between 4-10 inches), and the males have large, feathery antennae. They have no mouth parts and do not feed as adults. They survive on the food accumulated by the caterpillars when they are feeding. The ‘eyes’ on their wings are meant to confuse predators. When a bird or reptile looks to attack the moth, its sees four large eyes, and is left wondering how large the creature is! In India, silk moths are very well known. The Mulberry Silk Moth (Bombyx mori), is probably the best known silk moth. It is commercially reared and the silk from this moth is unfortunately extracted by boiling the cocoons, killing the caterpillar inside. This is to ensure that the threads are not broken, which happens if the moth breaks out.
Fortunately, in India, ‘Vanya’ silks (vanya means wild in Sanskrit) or wild silks are used extensively. In this case, the silk is extracted from the cocoons once the moth has left the cocoon. Hence the extraction of wild silks is far more humane.
The Tussar Silk Moth is one of the moths from which wild silk is extracted. So the next time your mother goes out to buy silks, remember to tell her to opt for natural silks.