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Wild Silk Textiles

By Jennifer L. Seltzer and Richard S. Peigler
Posted 2/24/2011, updated 1/15/2014

Throughout the world insects have played a role in the culture of humans.  One of these roles is the production of silk from the cocoons of various moth species.  Known as sericulture, the use of the cocoons to produce silk textiles has been practiced thousands of years.  The type of silk that most people are familiar with is the product of a domesticated species of moth, Bombyx mori (L.), commonly called the mulberry silk moth. However, silk is also produced from cocoons of several other species of moths that receive little or no human rearing, and products derived from their cocoons are known as wild silks.  Today wild silk moths are used to make several types of silk textiles, the most common being muga, tasar, tussah, and eri. Products made from these wild silks can easily be purchased from dealers online. Although these silks are made in several countries, India is the only country where three wild silks, tasar, muga, and eri, are used for textile production.  There are several other less common varieties of wild silks that are made in smaller quantities in countries where the product demand may be in decline, habitat may be in decline, or knowledge of silk production may not be passing down to younger generations, making them harder to get from dealers, and may eventually only be obtainable as vintage or antique pieces. 

This web site has been developed to focus on the wild silk moths and the different textiles that are produced from their silk. Today eleven species of Lepidoptera in the families Saturniidae, Notodontidae, and Lasiocampidae are being used for wild silk production. Species in Saturniidae include Antheraea assamensis (Helfer), A. paphia (L.), A. pernyi (Guérin-Méneville), A. yamamai (Guérin-Méneville), Attacus atlas (L.), and Samia ricini (Wm. Jones).  Various of these species are used in the production of muga, tussah, fagara, tasar and eri silks.  In West Africa wild silk is produced from members of the genera Anaphe and Epanaphe in the family Notodontidae, the larvae of which produce communal silk nests.  A few species of Lasiocampidae are used in Africa and Madagascar including Borocera cajani Vinson, Gonometa postica (Walker), and G. rufobrunnea Aurivillius, the later two are also used in the production of dance rattles.