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Silkworm Information

All About the Silkworm

General Information and Background
Silkworms are insects. They are the larva of a moth (Bombyx mori) native to Asia that spins a cocoon that is the source of commercial silk. The silk from the silkworm's cocoon is a single, continuous thread. It is made of a protein that is secreted from two salivary glands in the caterpillar's head. Silk was first made by the Chinese about 4,000 years ago.

Silkworm caterpillars have six real legs, plus five pairs of pseudopods (false legs) on the rear of the body. The Silkworm is not a worm at all, but is actually a caterpillar.
mulberry leaves
The silkworm has been domesticated to the point where it can no longer survive in the wild. The adult moth cannot eat or fly, and it has a fat body and small wings. Silkworms feed on the leaves of the mulberries (genus Morus) and sometimes on the Osage orange (Maclura pomifera).

Bombyx Mori will not bite, making them an ideal worm for feeding most reptiles, amphibians and other pets, and they offer excellent nutritional value. Newborn Silkworms are small enough for most baby reptiles to eat and young silkworms can be fed so they will grow to a desired size up to a maximum of about 3 inches. Silkworms are soft-bodied and slow moving. They are also relatively fast growing, reaching about 3 inches in length and ready to cocoon in as little as 25 - 28 days.

silkworm and cocoon
Silkworm with Cocoon
Silkworms undergo four development stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult. Click here to see a life cycle chart. The silkworm moth is the adult (imago) stage. The silkworm caterpillar is the larva. The pupa is what the silkworm changes into after spinning its cocoon before it emerges as a moth. The silkworm sheds its skin four times while it is growing. These stages-within-a-stage are called instars.

Silkworms have been used by researchers to study pheromones or sexual attractant substances. These pheromones are released by female moths, and the males detect the chemicals with olfactory hairs on their antennae, which allows the male to find the female for mating. The male antennae are made of many small hairs used to pick up small amounts of the pheromones over long distances.

Silkworm Rearing
silkworm eggs
Silkworm Moth and Eggs
Silkworms begin as tiny eggs. They should be placed in an open container like a wooden bowl or cardboard box. Keep the eggs in a warm place, but not in direct sun. They prefer temperatures of about 85 degrees and well-ventilated and moist air. They'll hatch in a week or two.

Initially, the caterpillars eat small amounts of food, but in the last two weeks, they consume huge amounts of food. It is crucial to have plenty of mulberry or artificial silkworm diet for them. The amount they eat directly transforms into the amount of silk they produce.

When feeding, wash hands thoroughly before handling the worms or the food or they may develop bacterial problems. If using our silkworm food, use a cheese grater to grate a small amount of food onto the worms and repeat until your worms reach the desired size. For best results, temperatures should be maintained between 78° and 88° F.

Condensation forming in the container after feeding will cause mold and bacteria to form, which can be very harmful to the silkworm, This is the leading cause of failure. If condensation does form, take the lid off your container and allow the container and old food to completely dry out. In the future, make sure the previous food is dry before feeding again.

newborn silkworms
Newborn Silkworms
As the silkworms grow and become overcrowded, transfer them to a larger plastic container. The lid needs to have air holes, if not you need to vent the lid to give the worms a fresh supply of oxygen and to allow condensation to dissipate. The old food and waste matter can be removed, but does not have to be if it remains thoroughly dry.

If allowed to feed continuously and in temperatures of 78° to 88° F, silkworms can go from egg to 1 inch in about 12 days, and 3 inches in less than 30 days. They will begin to spin cocoons at about 28 - 30 days old or when they are between 2 1/2 and 3 inches long.

For more detailed silkworm care instruction, please see our Frequently Asked Questions.

The Silkworm Moth
silkworm moth
Silkworm Moth
The moths will break out of their cocoons after two or three weeks spent metamorphosing. The moths do not eat or fly and will usually mate, lay eggs and die within a week. If the eggs are fertile, they will change from off-white to a purple-gray within a couple of days. If the eggs don't hatch within 3 weeks, they usually will not hatch until the following year.
Handling and Care
Once again, the Silkworm needs to stay as dry as possible. Condensation forming after feeding should be dissipated by removing or venting the container lid.

Silkworms can be susceptible to bacteria, so wash your hands thoroughly before handling the worms or their food. As long as the container environment remains dry, your worms will be fine.

When handling the worms, be very gentle. Silkworms are delicate creatures and are susceptible to bruising if not handled with care, especially as they grow larger.

For more information about silkworms and their care, please visit our Frequently Asked Questions Page.

The Nutritional Value of Silkworms

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