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Life cycle of Tussar Silk Moth: Antheraea paphia (Linnaeus, 1758)

The tussar moth, Antheraea paphia, known as the South India small tussore, is a common moth species of the Saturniidae family found in India and Sri Lanka. It is one of the silkworm species that produces Tussar silk, a wild silk made from the products of wild saturniid silkworms instead of the domesticated silkworm (Bombyx mori). The names Antheraea paphia and Antheraea mylitta are synonymous, however some scientist prefer to use one over the other, as discussed in detail by Peigler & Naumann (2016).


Life cycle of Tussar Silk Moth: Adult female of Antheraea paphia moth

Classification:

Kingdom:

Animalia

Phylum:

Arthropoda

Class:

Insecta

Order:

Lepidoptera

Family:

Saturniidae

Subfamily:

Saturniinae

Tribe:

Saturniini

Genus:

Antheraea Linnaeus, 1758

Morphology:

Male: Adult male is reddish or yellowish in color. Costal brown and grey fascia of forewings reaching the apex. Hyaline and ocellated spots (eye-spots) are much larger than those of A. roylei. The submarginal line of the hind wings close to the margin. No marginal yellow line is seen.


Freshly emerged male of Antheraea paphia


Female: Females may be pinkish-brown or bright-yellowish fawn; their hyaline and ocellated spots are larger than the males. Their antennae are also feathery and quite distinct. The females have narrower bipectinate antennae compared to the males.

Freshly emerged female of Antheraea paphia


Antheraea paphia sexes: Comparison of the antennae

Adult moths have thick legs which they use to grip tightly onto the leaf surface

Head and legs of female moth

Host plants:

Larvae of this species have been seen feeding on Giant crepe-myrtle (Lagerstroemia speciosa), Badam (Terminalia catappa) and recently Behada (Terminalia bellirica). Early stages are more frequently seen post monsoon, from September to January.


Early stages:

Eggs: The eggs are flat disc shaped (with a ridge in center) and smooth in appearance.

Single isolated egg of Antheraea paphia


The female lays bunches of closely stuck eggs on the host plants. Newly emerged larvae are hairy and disperse as they grow in size. Over the next few instars they rapidly gain in size and the final instar lava is quite large as seen in the accompanying picture.Larvae are green colored with paired dorsal series of yellow humps. White lunulate spots on the fifth and sixth somites have purple borders, whereas a lateral yellow line from seventh somite ends in a dilated brown band on the anal somite. Spiracles are yellow.

Final instar caterpillar of Antheraea paphia


The cocoon is shaped like an egg and formed over the course of two days. On the outside its fury and soft, while on the inside exists a typical moth brownish grey colored, hard casing. The cocoons attached to the host plant by a silken peduncle and made frequently inside half folded leaf cover rather than completely in open.

Cocoon of Antheraea paphia moth found on Lagerstroemia speciosa

The cocoon stage lasts usually from 21 days to a month, in some cases in the wild, overwintering can be seen till the arrival of favorable weather. While emerging, the moth secrets chemicals to dissolve part of the cocoon to open it and emerges from within. Due to its large size (wingspan ~13 cm), they take up to 4-6 hours to be spread their wings completely, after which they can fly out at night.

Wingspan comparison of the female moth with INR 20 note

References:

  1. Hampson, G. F. (1892). The Fauna of British India, Including Ceylon and Burma: Moths Volume I. Taylor and Francis – via Biodiversity Heritage Library.

  2. Jolly, M. S., Sen, S. K., and Das, M. G. (1976). Silk from the forest. Unasylva 28(114) 20-23

  3. Reddy, R. M. (2010). Conservation need of tropical tasar silk insect, Antheraea mylitta Drury (Lepidoptera: Saturniidae) – Strategies and impact. Journal of Entomology 7(3), 152-159.

  4. R.S. Peigler & S. Naumann (2016) What exactly is Antheraea paphia (Linnaeus, 1758)? (Lepidoptera, Saturnidae). Atalanta 47 (3/4): 500-520.

  5. Information on Wild silkmoths: http://www.cdfd.org.in/wildsilkbase/info_moths.php

  6. Antheraea paphia (Linnaeus, 1758) – South Indian Small Tussore. In Sondhi, S., Y. Sondhi, P. Roy and K. Kunte (Chief Editors). Butterflies of India, v. 3.41. Published by the Indian Foundation for Butterflies. URL: https://www.mothsofindia.org/antheraea-paphia

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