Silk Route

It flew past me; followed by another taking me by surprise while I was busy in the banana grove chopping off the yellowed leaves, raising bamboo support for the growing bunches etc. Yellowish-brown in colour with blotches of black on the wings they moved in a flash leaving me wonder-struck.

Amazed I asked what they were.

Phulphakhru, remarked Mangal, my Man Friday. That’s butterfly in Marathi.

Tussar MothI pursued them but lost them for they settled somewhere in the grove, may be underneath the banana leaves or on the stem. I tried locating them but gave up soon. Mangal’s assertion that they were butterflies seemed unbelievable—for they were pretty large to be one.  If they really were, I had made a discovery worth a mention in the next day’s newspaper, I thought. Only if I could have a selfie with one of them, I sadly hoped.

Later in the day when I what’supped Vineel Bhurke, an agri post graduate whom I have known for years now and who presently teaches in Welingkar’s. Moments later his beaming DP replied: Tussar Silk Moth.

The image on Google confirmed what Vineel had stated. It feels nice to have friends around who know about the insect world unlike us who can’t differentiate between a crow and a coucal (that’s a summer crow, dude).

Tussar is type of silk and the moth derives its name from the same. The Tussar Silk Moth is one of the wild moths from which wild silk is extracted. It’s not commercially reared like the Mulberry silk moths where the silk is extracted by boiling the cocoons, killing the caterpillars inside. The tribals of Odisha, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh, I am told, are adept in extracting Tussar silk from the cocoon after the moth emerges from it. Rich in texture and natural deep gold colour,  Tussar is known as Kosa Silk in Sanskrit.

Inhabitants of wild forest and dwelling in trees belonging to Terminalia species and Shora robusta as well as other food plants like Ber, Asan, Arjun, Jamun and Oak..Tussar Silk Moth eat the leaves of the trees they live on.

Yellowish-brown, the large moth has lovely patterns of maroon and pink. Despite its lovely colours, it is well concealed among the leaves. Each of its wings has eye-like markings, akin to mirrors and is meant to confuse predators. When a bird or reptile intends to attack the moth, having come across the four large eyes is fooled into believing to be larger than it really is, it retreats abandoning its prey.

Member of the Emperor Moth family, they are pretty large, between 4-10 inches, with males having large, feathery antennas’. As they do not have mouth parts they do not feed as adults surviving on the food accumulated by the caterpillars when they are feeding.

Describing the moths, Peter Smetacek, author of Butterflies on the Roof of World, who pioneered the use of Lepidoptera as indicators of climate change in 1994, writes: “A moth has six legs; to see them frantically scrabbling over an uneven surface and falling to find a hold is a remarkably absorbing sight. Sometimes, one claw manages to dig in and arrest the slide. Then the moth dangles in the air for a few minutes before finally gives up the struggle. There is dull thud as it hits the ground. Looking down, one can see it lying on its back, weakly moving one arm in a universal gesture that any bartender would instantly recognise.”

As Tussar Silk Moths generally thrive in the wild, it makes me feel pleased that I have been able to create a ‘wild’ in my humble farm plot which always I have aspired to. That merits a pat.



2 thoughts on “Silk Route

  1. Vineel Bhurke

    Glad to know that something learnt with interest can be recollected instantly even after 20 years !!
    Entomology was the most favourite of all subjects which i learnt at Agriculture University. Thank you for your kind words !!

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