Wednesday, July 10, 2019

A Moth Reappears

"What a lovely butterfly!" said our neighbour Goel-ji, pointing to this large moth sitting on the park wall.

Set against red-sandstone chips in the early morning sunlight, this was indeed a stunningly beautiful creature. Two pairs of translucent 'eyes' set in iridescent yellow, underlined in red and white, stared back at you blankly. No wonder it caught the attention of Goel-ji who knows everything there is to know about the sugar-trade and Hindustani Classical Music, but usually cared little for the difference between butterflies and moths. Yet the sight moved him enough to insist that I take a photo and share it with him on WhatsApp - "This is the first time I am noticing something like this in our park!"

As I continued my way, I wondered what is this moth called. It looked vary familiar but I could not recall its name. Was it the Atlas Moth? Or was it a new entrant into our monsoon-soaked neighbourhood?

Later, I kicked myself for not remembering. No, it was not the Atlas Moth but a species that had been attracted to the Arjuna trees (Terminalia arjuna) in hordes three years ago. It was the Tussar Silk Moth!

Three years ago the caterpillars of this moth (Antheraea mylitta) had made a dramatic appearance on the young Arjuna trees. Hundreds of them had suddenly appeared on the trees, clinging to every available branch, leaving them almost bereft of leaves, and then growing into enormous creatures built like bright green trailer trucks fitted with psychedelic lights.

A few days later many of them had fallen off the crowded trees, and lay helplessly on the grass - too large to crawl, and too numerous - or too distasteful -  to be eaten by birds and cats. The ones that remained on the trees soon turned into lovely oval cocoons and hung there like thousands of fruit, swaying in the breeze. We had seen only a few moths that emerged from these cocoons. Some were larger, and looked haggard after getting drenched in the monsoon rains but none of them had a bright golden sheen like this one.

The Arjuna trees are now 20 feet higher and far less vulnerable than they were three years ago. How may eggs are these Tussar Moths going to lay this year?  How many caterpillars are going to fall off the swaying branches?  Let's see.


Paper - Checklist of Moths in Delhi (2017) -

Tussar Silk - Utsavpedia -

Tussar Silk Moth -

Life-cycle -

What's that bug? -

Flikr - Moths of India -

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