What Silkworms need:
House: A cardboard box or basket with a lid or fly/spider protective curtain is an ideal home for silkworms. The box should be at least as large as a shoebox. A jar or bottle is not suitable because it does not allow airflow and can go mouldy and overheat.
Temperature: Room temperature is ideal for your silkworms, they do not require sunlight, and they like to stay cosy.
Predators and ills: Keep spiders away but do not use fly spray, cleaners, hair spray, perfume, incense or any other chemicals near the silkworms, not even natural cleaners such as eucalyptus or lavender. Move them outside while you clean, then bring them back in.
Food: Silkworm moths only eat mulberry leaves, feed twice a day to avoid the leaves becoming mouldy. Place enough leaves to cover them in a single layer, when you can see the grubs above the leaves it is time to feed them again. They will eat more as they grow, getting very hungry. They slow their eating when they are ready to spin.
History: Silkworm moths are not native to Australia. Their ancestors were native to China. A Chinese Princess has been credited with the discovery of silk and farming of silkworms. Humans have bred them for thousands of generations, increasing their silk quantity and quality and their ability to be handled by humans. These silkworms are no longer able to live in a natural world. They form helpless flightless moths and look yummy for birds (actually they taste quite horrid to most birds, but that is discovered by the birds after it kills them). They spin large cocoons with fine thread in return for your care. Nowadays, the silkworm is fully dependent on humans. In China, the pupae are eaten BBQ’d.
What Silkworms Do: (The Silk Worm Life Cycle)
Silkworms will eat mulberry leaves twice a day, when they slow in their eating and begin to look chubby and slightly yellow, they will start to spin. Place an upside down egg carton over them or put them in a egg carton with just a few leaves as required. They will surround themselves in golden yellow, salmon pink, yellow-green or white cocoons. In a month or so they will exude a chemical that dissolves the end of the cocoon so they can emerge as a flightless moth. Put the moths together in a flat-bottomed box. They do not eat or drink during this part of the lifecycle. The moths will flap their wings at high speed calling for a mate. When they find a mate they will join at the tail end. When mating ends, the females will lay eggs. The eggs will be laid on the walls of your box and on any paper available. The grey eggs are fertile and will hatch next spring. The yellow eggs are infertile. The moths will only live for a week or two. The moths do not eat or drink and only need protection from sun and predators such as spiders and birds. When they die they will become still and lifeless, sometimes they lie on their back. You should remove all dead moths and put them in the garden because dead animals can cause disease amongst the living ones. At this point you need to choose if you wish to keep silk worms again. (Do not compost the eggs, return them to the supplier, give them away to a friend or burn them. It would not be humane to dispose of them in the garden or bin). The eggs will hatch into tiny worms next spring.
Why they are good pets:
Silkworms are good pets because they are noiseless, odourless, little and soft. They live for only a short time. We can enjoy them now and again the next year. They remind us of the fragility of life. They remind us of the importance in being responsible to animals in our care. They demonstrate the life cycle and the importance of a healthy habitat and food.
The best use of the silkworm droppings: These droppings are clean, pelleted and wonderfully rich for potted plants and in the garden.
Mulberries and Silk are good for the environment: Silk is a sustainable material and unlike most of the light and comfortable fabrics on the market today, it is natural and will decompose. Mulberry trees are also valuable food to people and should be promoted, they are easy to grow and harvest and do not harbour pests and diseases. The fruit is very tasty. It can be eaten raw or cooked in pies. The leaves can also be cooked as a vegetable. Fresh fruit grown locally on bushy trees builds a healthy community and a healthier city. Trees help filter the air, protect the soil from erosion, provide free shade and provide habitat for birds and small mammals. You should avoid planting mulberries close to fragile native areas because birds can spread the seeds inside the fruit.
What use is their silk?
Commercially, the silk is harvested from the cocoon (chrysalis) whilst the moth is still forming in order to avoid the damaging exudate released by the young mot. This commercial process kills the silkworm, the moths are then fed to animals, are cooked to eat or are composted and become nutrient in the soil. Some especially good weavers are allowed to hatch for the next generation of silk worms. Silk is a biologically sustainable fabric and very versatile (it is used to make rope and warm padding, as well as the famous fashionable fabric). The uses for the home silk cocoons are not limited: they make great Christmas tree decorations and other craft uses. You can cut the ends and make them into finger puppets. You can stuff a pillow with cocoons, make a necklace, cut them into rings or sew them together to make a pincushion.
A. Sampson-Kelly ADPA.,BCA.,MCA., GrdDipSci.
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