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raising silkmoths (silkworms) - Sericulture, Moriculture, and the wild ones

 
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My silk eggs arrived today.  Now for the fun job or raising silkmoths!





Some Words
silkmoths - Bombyx mori, also known as silkworms or The Tiny Masters
wild silkmoths - there are over 200 varieties of moths that give silk, these are called 'wild' wether they are raised at home or not, because the moth isn't domesticated like the Bombyx moth.
sericulture - growing of bombyx silk
moriculture - raising of mulberry trees




I've been trying for years to find silk moth eggs.  Each year I planted a mulberry tree, or three, or more.  Finally, I decided THIS will be the year I raise silkworms.  So I contacted everyone I could possibly think of (from lizard supply shops to silk clothing shops) and I tell ya, I sure was glad to find Flourishing Filaments on etsy.  I devoured the ebook and the shop keeper was willing to try shipping the eggs to Canada.  And here we are.

The eggs come in a tiny vile.  So small and yet, containing over 200 silk eggs.  



Of course, they arrive the day we get yet another unseasonably cold spell.  Normally one would be hard pressed to find a place in the home that isn't over 20C or 70F.  I put the eggs in my bedroom because it gets the hottest during the summer and I can turn the heat on if things fall below 70F.  

The instructions say to place a leaf in with the eggs in case they wake up early and need a nibble.  It doesn't say about how often I need to replace it, so I think I'll just get a new leaf each afternoon.  

Then I cover it with a slightly damp sponge.  I didn't have the kind recommended (I wasn't expecting the eggs to arrive 'till next week) so I'm using a Luffa I cut up until I can get the right kind of sponge.



I also wasn't sure what height the container was supposed to have, so I divided the eggs into two batches and we'll see which they like best.  

Now I wait for them to hatch.  They can hatch any day now, or take several weeks.  According to my reading, the expected hatch time is about 10 to 14 days.  But it's up to the moths.  



some related threads
cooking and eating silkworms
silkworm buisness

 
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Wow! What an exciting project! Where do you see this going? I assume you will spin and weave, but could you see this as an enterprise, selling eggs for instance?
 
r ranson
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The short container looks like it won't work.

I cut the filter so that it was below the sides of the container, but the moisture from the sponge still wicked onto the filter.  I'll transfer these little guys to a bigger container.  
 
r ranson
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a fun video about growing silkmoths


quite possibly the best resorse on the web for growing silk moths
 
r ranson
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finding silkworms in Canada is provig to be difficult.  

But apparently, lizards eat silkworms so I went to a lizard store (who knew there were stores for lizards?) and they are going to see if they can order some in.

 
r ranson
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wormspit is an amazing site for learning about moths.  


 
r ranson
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Oh wow!  I found this video of silkworm eggs hatching

 
r ranson
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Mandy Launchbury-Rainey wrote:Wow! What an exciting project! Where do you see this going? I assume you will spin and weave, but could you see this as an enterprise, selling eggs for instance?



Mostly I'm raising silkmoths because I've never done it before.  It looked like something neat to try.

But given how difficult it is to buy eggs in Canada, I may sell eggs later on.  I would probably want to do this for a year or two first to make sure I know what I'm doing.

The local yarn shops used to sell whole silk whole cocoons for dyers.  I'm curious to find out how much work is involved in raising silk and if it's a viable cottage industry.  It sure would be neat if it was.

But mostly I'm in it for the chance to have 200 pet moths.  
 
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As an aside to this topic, there are several other silkworm species that are in culture in Asia that might prove useful elsewhere in the world, each with it's own preferred food plant.  As I recall, without looking it up, there are species which specialize in ailanthus and castor beans, for example.  So in a niche where these or other food plants are easy or even weedy might be ideal for these worms....if starts for them can be found.
 
r ranson
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Alder Burns wrote:As an aside to this topic, there are several other silkworm species that are in culture in Asia that might prove useful elsewhere in the world, each with it's own preferred food plant.  As I recall, without looking it up, there are species which specialize in ailanthus and castor beans, for example.  So in a niche where these or other food plants are easy or even weedy might be ideal for these worms....if starts for them can be found.



Not off topic at all!

There are over 200 species of moth that produce useable silk.  I think 20 of them are native to my area, but I haven't been able to capture any yet.

I'm starting with Bombyx mori so I can understand the life cycle of a moth better.  The wild moths are temperamental and less forgiving if I make mistakes.  Wild silk cocoons for crafting can be very expensive so there's more room for a cottage industry there.  There is also the possibility of raising the worms directly on the tree with some sort of netting to protect them.  If they are native silkmoths then a few escapees shouldn't cause a problem as these moths aren't a threat to agriculture.  
 
r ranson
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I found something neat in the comments of this video.


WAYNEGAMER 101
8 months ago
I feed my silkworms beetroot leaves and then their silk is pink instead of white/yellow

 
r ranson
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This is a really great book on Sericulture and Moriculture (growing of mulberries) which is free on googlebooks.

The Sericulture Training Manual

 
r ranson
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This video shows a way of processing silk by hand, from hatched cocoons:

 
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Omg. What timing!! I came here just to look around for info on sericulture.
Im learning how to raise silkworms as well and I've learned the hard way how fragile their immune systems are. Im about to get offline, but Im racking my brain trying to figure out housing for about 1600 eventually. Planning to use the net method, but not sure what to attach the net too, and im trying to avoid plastic, but everything must be sterilized after use....so I don't know. Atm only about 200 in my new clutch. Mine arent making it too cocooning and I'm hoping I figure it out with this new batch.

Exciting!! Im hoping this opens the door for other caterpillar raising.
 
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r ranson wrote:Oh wow!  I found this video of silkworm eggs hatching



I have a detailed video of a silkworm's anus being..uh...activated if youre interested. 😂
 
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I've got worms!

Two itty bitty black smudges were moving this morning.  So I snuck outside and got a tiny mulberry leaf, patted the dew off it, and put it in the dish.  The smudges kept moving away from it so I took a soft paintbrush and with extra care, nudged the worms onto the leaf.

They quickly crawled to the underside of the leaf so I have no idea what they are doing under it.  

I'm very happy to see them hatching because I was wondering if the eggs are changing colour.  They seem lighter.
ravens-first-silkworms.jpg
[Thumbnail for ravens-first-silkworms.jpg]
 
r ranson
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Does anyone here know how much space I'm going to need if all 200 hatch?  I've been looking around to try to discover the square footage inchage per worm or per dozen worms.  

 
Mandy Launchbury-Rainey
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Congratulations on the arrival of your babies!
 
r ranson
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the wayback machine is my new favourite toy!
Wormwood's lost post on silkworms voltinism.
 
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r ranson wrote:Does anyone here know how much space I'm going to need if all 200 hatch?  I've been looking around to try to discover the square footage inchage per worm or per dozen worms.  




Congrats on your baby caterpillars!
I havent seen a given number yet! From my personal experience, a lot more space than you would think. They can get to be huge juicy chonks at their last stage and the less they walk on each other the better. Ive read that the little hooks in there feet are a bit rough on their delicate skin. Small tears in skin and injury can make them more susceptible to infection. I only did 200 my first batch and I needed a few plastic bin lids. The cleaner the better.

Ive also found that when they are tiny hairy babies like this, they're at one of their easier stages to move them by hand. The bigger worms cling to things with suprising strength when you try and pick them up, wiggle out of your hands, etc.
At this stage a soft round shaped eyeshadow or watercolor brush to gently sweep them up works nicely.

Be CAREFUL about what you put them on. I had set a few on a piece of paper, and they wandered off the edge onto the top of a plastic craft bin from Sterilite and it poisoned them. I can not 100% confirm it was the plastic and not something ON the plastic, but I havent spilled anything on it, especially recently. I dont dont work with a lot of toxic materials. But they vomited and convulsed for hours until I had to mercy kill them. The first few I thought were just shedding their skin, because that is a violent process and sometimes they look a little ill. Lol

But after a whole batch one by one started having convulsions and dying slowly for hours, I noticed and cleaned it all up. Not sure what happened with that.
 
r ranson
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Looks like at least half a dozen babies. At noon, I put the leaf they were eating in a new bin and gave the remaining eggs a new leaf and the babies a chopped up leaf.  They don't seem to be eating very much now, but the leaf seems to dry out in 6 hours so I'm feeding them at least three times a day, trying to lure them to the far side of the container from the dryer leaves so I can remove what they don't eat.  

What do you think?  Should I keep each day's hatching separate or just lump them together?  Another hot one today and a lot more eggs went pale so I expect more hatchlings in the morning.  
 
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I think i would just lump them together for now. Everything with them seems to happen in a rush of about 2-3 days, and the others are outliers. As far as I can tell, having slightly different sizes isnt too terrible and sometimes the small ones will suddenly catch up in growth with better food access. XD
Just have to try and avoid pile ons. They tend to crush each other to death. during stages of growth they rear up on their back legs only and look like they're praying. Curve up like a cobra. For some reason if they're not allowed to curve up and rest during these periods, because too many friends are crawling on them, they die.

I'm still so new I dont know a lot about the detailed parts of management. Maybe you should seperate the slow growers and feed them to another animal so only the most vigorous and eager for food breed?
 
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A dozen more worms this morning.  I'm covering them with a towel at night so they get some proper dark hours.  I'm insomniac so I often read at night but I suspect the worms are light sensitive since the description of their behaviour often says "they do suchandsuch (hatch, shed, start spinning) in the morning"

I'm already thinking about what to do when the cocoons are finished.  I want to keep at least 24 for mating and taking pictures of the moths.  

I want to reel silk which extracts the silk filament as one, mile-long thread.  I also plan to make hankies and to card the waste silk.  The problem is, a lot of the pages I read ten years ago are now missing from the internet.  So I've been plugging the addresses into the wayback machine in hopes of discovering useful goodies.

Here are some random links I'm stumbling on:

Knitty Spin on reeling silk http://knitty.com/ISSUEfall08/KSreelingsilk.html

I wish I had a zakuri - https://web.archive.org/web/20090124063609/http://wormspit.com/zakuri.htm

the Croissure makes the reeled silk smoother and dry faster



how to make a card thingy for reeling silk https://oakenking.livejournal.com/146526.html

making hankies http://www.wormspit.com/mawatas.htm

silk is the bomb(yx) http://knitty.com/ISSUEspring06/FEATbombyx.html
 
r ranson
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I was wondering how long it takes for each stage - I found this fun picture:

 
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My expectation was that if I put a fresh leaf in their home three times a day, by the next day the old leaves will be shrivelled up and dry and the worms would be all on the new leaf.  Nope.  Some of them seem happy to hang out on the dry leaves.  weirdos.  

Not entirely understanding how I'm supposed to keep their home clean.
 
Mandy Launchbury-Rainey
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r ranson wrote: Not entirely understanding how I'm supposed to keep their home clean.



With a "moth and bucket'.? Best I can do at this hour of the day.
 
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r ranson wrote: Not entirely understanding how I'm supposed to keep their home clean.



I just found this, it has some useful looking information. A little bit about the net method. The font and text was hard for me to read.

https://www.slideshare.net/mobile/nhomthatnice/silkworm-rearing-technology
 
r ranson
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Christina Doyle wrote:

I have a detailed video of a silkworm's anus being..uh...activated if youre interested. 😂



Of course, I'm interested.

How did I miss this earlier?  
 
r ranson
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Christina Doyle wrote:

r ranson wrote: Not entirely understanding how I'm supposed to keep their home clean.



I just found this, it has some useful looking information. A little bit about the net method. The font and text was hard for me to read.

https://www.slideshare.net/mobile/nhomthatnice/silkworm-rearing-technology



I couldn't find a copyright notice on this so I think I'm good to upload it here.  It's from the linked In file sharing site linked above.  
Filename: silkwormrearingtechnology-150509022651-lva1-app6891.pdf
File size: 13 megabytes
 
r ranson
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These little guys are starting to get hungry.

Bigger hatch day today.  A couple of dozen new worms at least.  

Some of my earlier hatchlings are getting a big head.  
IMG_6804.JPG
[Thumbnail for IMG_6804.JPG]
 
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This is my current set up.  The bigger bin is for when the worms are larger, but for now, I'm keeping everything confined in there with a damp sponge to keep things moist.  There's a thermometer and humidity sensor (tall grey thing).

I have the two little containers inside, one with the eggs and one where I move the hatchlings.  The hatchlings crawl on the leaf and when I give them a new leaf, I move the old leaf complete with hatchlings, to the other container.  

I don't think we have quite 100 babies yet.  It's hard to tell.  But they are neat to watch.  Although, they go very still whenever there is a loud noise like a rooster crowing or bang.  

The paintbrush is for picking up the worms that can't figure out where the leaf is.  They have a little bit of silk that the brush can pick up and then gently put them on the leaf.  Once they are on the leaf, they seem to stay there.

The chopsticks are for handling the leaves - adding the new, taking out the old.  
IMG_6779.JPG
[Thumbnail for IMG_6779.JPG]
 
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So how is it going getting the ones clinging to the old, dried up leaf from yesterday onto the new leaf? Just a gentle sweep of the paintbrush? Or are you leaving them where they are until they get bored?
 
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Congratulations Raven on the birth of your little ones!  You will be a very busy Momma!  What I used for my Kegos when they were getting a little bigger was those big round black food trays. With a big see through plastic top. I pierced the plastic top with many holes for breathing and I kept them on wax paper.  Easier to clean.  The bigger they get the bigger they poop.  They will get very messy.  What is also great is that you can stack the containers I think I had them 6 high.  
The kego babies will move of their own accord (most of them) when you put in fresh leaves. So it’s easy to move them without the paint brush.  Wait till you hear them eating!  I loved hearing them munching away as I was falling asleep.  Sounds like a gently falling rain.  
 
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I have a story from a fibre teacher who was raising silk worms in Vermont. (The former capital of silk worm raising of the US over a 100 years ago) She was waiting for her Kegos to hatch and she had a death in the family.  So she left them in her husbands care.  I guess the weather was unusually warm so those baby Kegos hatched a little earlier than planned.  They all marched to the window closest to the morus alba.  She thought her husband had made new curtains!  The window was completely covered with Lacey baby Kegos!
 
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oh my gosh how exciting!!! I don't have any help to offer but I wlook forward to seeing them grow!!
 
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