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General Information, Caring For & Breeding Silkworms
How we started
Silkworms are the larvae of a moth (Bombyx mori) native to Asia that spins a cocoon of fine, strong, shiny fibers that are the source of commercial silk. Silkworm culture is called sericulture. The various silkworm species raised today are distinguished by the quality of the silk they produce. Silkworms feed on the leaves of the mulberry (genus Morus) and sometimes on the Osage orange (Maclura pomifera).
Bombyx Mori will not bite, making an ideal worm for eating most reptiles, amphibians and other animals, and they offer great nutritional value.
Newborn babies are small enough for most baby reptiles to eat and young silkworms can even be eaten to grow to a desired size. Silkworms are soft-bodied, slow moving and can grow to 3 inches in length. They also grow relatively quickly, reaching about 3 inches in length and are ready to cocoon in as little as 25 – 28 days.
Silkworms go through four stages of development, like most insects: egg, larva, pupa and adult. Adult stage (imago) is silk worm. The larva is the silkworm caterpillar. The pupa is what the silkworm changes into after spinning its cocoon before it emerges as a worm. Since the silkworm grows so large, it must shed its skin four times as it grows. These stages-within-a-stage are called instars.
Today, silkworms live only in captivity. Silkworms were domesticated so that they could not survive on their own in the wild, particularly since they had lost the ability to fly. All wild populations are extinct. Also contributing to their extinction is the extraordinary fact that they only eat mulberry leaves.
Researchers have used silkworms to study pheromones or sexually attractive substances. Pheromones are released by female butterflies and males detect the chemicals with olfactory hairs on their antennae. This allows the male to find the female for mating. The male’s antennae are made of very small hairs to increase the chance of collecting small amounts of pheromones over long distances.
How to grow your worms to the perfect size
The great thing about silkworms is that they only grow as much as you feed them, and they can go for a week or two without food. Say you have a couple hundred small silkworms, but you have a big bullfrog or iguana. All you have to do is feed the worms as much as they will eat, keep them warm and dry, and in a few days, you will have some good sized worms. Have too many silkworms? Not a problem, feed them once or twice a week and they will stay alive until you need them without growing bigger.
Wash your hands thoroughly before handling the worms or the food or they may develop bacterial problems. Using a cheese grater, grate a small amount of food onto the worms and repeat until the worms reach the desired size. For best results, keep the temperature between 78° and 88° F.
Excessive condensation formed in the container after eating is the main cause of failure. If this condensation forms, remove the lid from your container and allow the container and old food to dry completely. In the future, make sure that the previous food is dry before you eat again. Old wet food is a breeding ground for mold and other problems, dry food is not.
As the silkworms grow, you may need to transfer your worms to a larger plastic container. The cover needs to have ventilation holes. If not, you need to ventilate the lid so the silkworms won’t suffocate and allow condensation to dissipate. You can also use a shoe box. The old food and waste matter can be removed, but it does not have to be if it stays dry.
Under ideal conditions (78° to 88° F and allowed to feed almost continuously) silkworms can go from egg to 1 inch in length in about 12 days, and 3 inches in less than 30 days. The worms will begin to spin cocoons in about 28 – 30 days or when they are between 2 1/2 and 3 inches long.
From Cocoon to Moth
Silkworm moths emerge from their cocoons after spending about two to three weeks metamorphosing. As butterflies, they do not eat or fly. They will usually breed, lay eggs and die within a week. Fertile eggs turn from yellow to gray or purple in a week or so. If the eggs do not hatch within 3 weeks, they usually will not hatch until the following year (see above – from eggs to larvae).
Proper handling procedures
Again, in order for your worms to stay healthy for several weeks, you will need to keep the silkworms as dry as possible. If condensation builds up during feeding, ventilate the lid of the container to prevent excess moisture.
Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before handling the worms or eating them. Silkworms can be susceptible to bacteria if not handled properly. As long as the container environment remains dry, your worms will be fine.
Mold develops in high temperatures and high humidity. If the worms are covered with casts, silks and old food for too long, mold can develop and kill the worms. If mold develops, grate about 1/4 inch of food (sold separately) over all the glasses with a cheese grater. As the worms crawl to the top of the new food pile you can transfer them to moldy food and place them in a new container.
Silkworms are susceptible to bruising and dying if not handled with care, especially as they grow larger. When handling and transferring the glass, be very gentle.
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