Thursday, 15 December 2016

The most stunning silkmoth?

The postman brought me a great parcel today, it contained ten cocoons of the Madagascan Moon Moth, Argema mittrei.   The cocoons are silvery and netted, really pretty.  These ones have been cut open to check the pupae inside.  If you know what to look for, you can see not just if the pupae are alive and healthy, but also whether they are male or female, and whether they are close to emergence. 
There are four males and six females in my batch -  this pupae is a female.You can see the body of the moth, the feathery antennae curving downwards and the shape of the wings that are crumpled up inside there.


It may not be too long before some of these emerge, but in the meantime, here’s a photo of a male moth from a couple of months ago.  Its on my daughter’s hand, so you can get an idea of the scale.   


They are the most amazing and gorgeous creatures.  We managed to see these in the wild in Madagascar a few years ago.  As far as I know, the cocoons are not known to have ever been used to produce silk in Madagascar, but if you process the cocoons, it certainly looks like useable fibre.  Its a lot thicker and coarser than some of the other silks, but now I have a few more cocoons, I will have a go at spinning it up when they become vacant.


They don’t use the Argema silk in Madagascar, but I have since found out that there is another moth native to the island that has been used for silk production.  Its not a Saturnid, but a member of a different family, the Lasiocampidae.  When I looked up Borocera cajani online to find out what it looked like,  the caterpillar sounded very familiar and here’s my photo of it  - I didn’t realise at the time the significance of this caterpillar.   

Its very well camouflaged, but when disturbed, out come these four big, orange tufts of stinging hair.  In some parts of Madagascar, they are trying to reforest upland areas with native plants, including the foodplant for this caterpillar.  Harvesting the cocoons and turning the silk into scarves is making a real difference to the lives of the women of the villages involved in this conservation project.  They are getting the opportunity to earn an income sustainably, whilst improving native habitat.  If you are interested, take a look at the video at  I’d love to go and see this for myself and find out about it firsthand.

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