Saturday, September 05, 2015

Wild, native silk moths - what a wonderful excuse for a walk in the woods

I've been thinking about wild silk moths again.

These days,'wild silk' seems to mean two distinctly different things.

The most common meaning is that the silk is produced from domesticated silkworms in a way that does not kill the 'worm'.  The silkworm is allowed to hatch from the cocoon before harvest, this creates a textured thread as the individual silk fibres are broken as the moth chews its way from the cocoon.  This is different than regular harvest style, which creates a very smooth silk, the worm (caterpillar) is killed, then the silk is reeled from the cocoon in one long strand.

But that's not what I'm talking about.

What I want to talk about, are silk moths that live in the wild.  There are all sorts of different types of moths that produce a useable silk.  Several of which are native to my area.  If one is lucky enough to find a giant cocoon or three in the wild woods, one might be able to hatch out some moths.  A boy moth meets a girl moth and they make moth eggs, which hatch into caterpillars, which create silk, which can then hatch into moths... and the cycle continues.

Then again, there are places out there which do both - wild silk from foraged wild silk moth cocoons.

These are some Polyphemus cocoons I hatched out a few years ago.  They are a beautiful large silk moth, with big 'eyes' on their wings.  Four lovely moths hatched out, but alas, the mood wasn't right or something, and the moths didn't decide to bless me with worms.

Some native silkmoths are endangered, harmed by declining habitat and chemicals.  So any attempt to catch and raise these moths, should be undertaken with care and consideration for the overall silkmoth population.

The wonderful thing about wild silk moths, is that they eat a large variety of leaves.  Unlike domestic silkworms that want either oak or mulberry, most wild silk moths are willing to consume dozens of species of trees.  This makes feeding the little masters so much easier.

My plan this winter, is when I take my goats for a walk in the woods, I will keep an eye out for wormsign.  Cocoons.  Sometimes in the leaf litter, other times in branches of trees, who knows where.  I bet if I keep my eyes open, I might just find something exciting.

Some silk moths that may live around here (including a bit about what they eat)
Polyphemus of course
Hyalophora cecropia
Hyalophora columbia
Hyalophora euryalus

Here's a list of moths native to British Columbia, and another list of North American that create silken cocoons that have potential for silk harvest. I suspect my list of possible native silk moths for my area is woefully incomplete.

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