Animal Fibres

Table of Contents

What are Animal Fibres?

Animal fibres are the natural fibres that can be sourced to animals. These fibres are usually made up of different kinds of proteins. The most popular examples of animal fibres include silk and wool. It is important to note that animal fibres that are extracted from different animals usually have different properties. Furthermore, the types of fibres may also vary from species to species. For example, both Cotswold and Merino are different types of wool (extracted from different sheep species). The former is known for its coarse texture whereas the latter is famous for its soft texture. It can also be noted that natural fibres vary in consistency whereas synthetic fibres are known to be more uniform.

The textile fibres that are derived from animals are usually animal fibres. Such fibres are usually produced from animal hair, animal fur, animal skin, or certain secretions (usually from insects such as the silkworm). Once extracted, animal fibres are usually woven or knitted (or sometimes felted) in order to form beautiful animal fabrics. Historically, animal fibres have been employed in the production of soft and warm jackets, wraps, blazers, shawls, ponchos, coats and other forms of clothing and accessories. Carpets, covers, and rugs are usually made of relatively rougher animal fibres.

Examples of Animal Fibres


Silk is regarded by many to be “natural” protein fibre. This animal fibre may be woven into textiles in certain ways. The most commonly known form of silk is the one that is obtained from the cocoons (that are produced in captivity) by the silkworm larvae of the Bombyx mori species. The practice of silk rearing is often referred to as sericulture. It can also be noted that the degummed fibres that are obtained from the Bombyx mori species are known to have a diameter ranging from 5 to 10 μm. Certain types of silk are famous for their shimmery appearance, which is usually a result of the triangular prism-like cross-sectional structure of the fibres. Such prism-like fibrous structures allow the light that is incident to the silk fibre to be refracted at different angles.

It is important to note that one entire silkworm cocoon yields one long fibre. Therefore, care must be taken whilst unwinding the fibres from the silkworm cocoons. Furthermore, the quality of the silk fibres also depends on the healthiness of the silkworm larvae which, in turn, is dependent on the food and the living conditions they are provided with.

One of the most powerful natural fibres known to man is spider silk. In fact, the strongest dragline silk known to man is believed to be over three times tougher than kevlar and over five times stronger than steel. Certain types of spider silk are also known for their elasticity. For example, the silk that is woven by the ogre-faced spider is known to have the ability to stretch to over five times its length without sustaining damage.


The term ‘Wool’ is generally used to refer to the animal fibres that are derived from the furs of animals that belong to the Caprinae family. Although wool can be usually sourced to sheep fur, it is not uncommon for wool to be harvested from other animals such as rabbits, goats, and alpacas. The primary difference between sheeps wool and hair is that sheep’s wool is known to contain scales that tend to overlap (in a manner similar to shingles on a roof). In fact, some types of wool are known to have over 20 such bends in a single inch. The diameter of a strand of wool can range from 17 micrometres to around 35 micrometres.

The key features of different types of wool are listed below:

        • Alpaca fibre, the wool that is derived from the fur of an alpaca, is widely known to be lighter in weight than sheep’s wool. Furthermore, it is also known to be warmer than sheep’s wool.
        • Angora wool, a type of wool derived from the fur of the Angora rabbit, is known to be extremely soft and pleasant to touch. This is the reason why this type of wool is very desirable.
        • Bison wool, a class of wool that can be usually sourced from the American Bison, is widely used in textiles.
        • A very popular class of wool is Cashmere wool, which is usually derived from the fur of the Cashmere goat. This type of wool is famous for its extremely soft and luxurious texture. Cashmere wool is also known to have a relatively lower weight (when compared to certain other types of wool). The diameter of cashmere wool is almost always below 18.5 micrometres.
        • Mohair is an animal fibre having a texture that is similar to that of silk. This animal fibre is obtained from the fur of the Angora goat. It is widely known for its resilience and durability. Furthermore, this animal is also known to be highly lustrous and a good acceptor of dye.

Frequently Asked Questions on Animal Fibres


List 5 examples of fabrics that are derived from animal fibres

5 notable examples of fabrics that are derived from animal fibres are provided below.

  • Silk – derived from silkworms (the fibre is obtained from the cocoon of the silkworm)
  • Cashmere – derived from the fur of the Cashmere goat
  • Shearling – derived from the fur and skin of the shearling sheep
  • Persian wool – derived from the fur of Karakul lambs (regarded by many to be a highly inhumane fabric)
  • Shahtoosh – derived from the fur of the Tibetan antelope

What kinds of proteins constitute animal fibres?

The most common proteins found in animal fibres are:

  • Collagen – a protein which is the main component of connective tissue in mammals
  • Keratin – a protein which belongs to a family of fibrous structural proteins that are commonly referred to as scleroproteins
  • Fibroin – a protein which is insoluble in nature and is usually found in the silk that is produced by the larvae of the Bombyx Mori silkworm

Which parts of animals act as sources of animal fibres?

Common sources of animal fibre include:

  • Animal hair – the fibre obtained from the hair of mammals. For example, the hair of goats, sheep, and horses
  • Avian fibre – the fibres obtained from the feathers of birds
  • Silk fibre – the fibres obtained from the silkworm cocoons and the cocoons of certain other insects.

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