Silkworms (Bombyx Mori)

Silkworm Introduction and Origin

Chinese first domesticated Silkworms around 5000 years ago, and for 3000 years the Chinese kept the secret of how to use them to produce silk.

In China, there is a legend that the discovery of the silkworm’s silk was by an ancient empress called Xi Ling- Shi. She was drinking tea under a tree when a silk cocoon fell into her tea. She picked it out and started to wrap the silk thread around her finger, she slowly felt a warm sensation. When the silk ran out, she saw a small larva. In an instant, she realized that this caterpillar larva was the source of the silk. She taught this to the people and it became widespread.

There are many more legends about the silkworm. Silk was a luxury item and remained a Chinese secret until 6AD when two Persian monks smuggled silkworm eggs out of China in a hollow walking stick.

Silkworm Characteristics

Newly hatched silkworms look like thin pencil lines drawn on paper. Over the next four to five weeks they quickly grow into smooth, creamy white worms about six to eight centimetres long with shiny noses and yellow blood. On larger silkworms it is possible to see eight pairs of legs, claspers and a beating heart. Silkworms, like all insects, do not have lungs and breath through small holes in the sides of their body.

Silkworm Feeding

Silkworms have huge appetites, and their appetite gets bigger as they grow. They never stop eating during the larval (caterpillar) stage, so it is important that they have a constant supply of fresh Mulberry leaves made available to them. They will not eat wet, bruised or wilted leaves. They can survive on lettuce or beetroot leaves, but a diet of this alone will mean that they don’t produce a good quality silk.

Silkworm Housing

Silkworms prefer a dry, cool, airy place. Keep their house away from direct sunlight and clean it out daily removing droppings and old leaves as Silkworms will suffocate if they are buried under rotting leaves. Placing a sheet of newspaper on the bottom of their enclosure will make cleaning much easier.

Silkworm Lifespan & Breeding

The Domestic Silk Moth cannot fly because their body is too heavy in relation to their wings. They flutter around to find a mate, and only live just long enough to produce another generation. The female will lay around 300 to 500 tiny pale yellow eggs in neat, tidy rows before she dies.

The eggs hatch in Spring, and when first hatched the baby silkworms look like tiny short black threads. The newly hatched babies grow rapidly, reaching up to 70 times their original size over a period of approximately 4 weeks.

The fully grown caterpillars reach 6 to 8 centimeters in size, and it is possible to see eight pairs of legs, a shiny nose, yellow blood through their skin and a beating heart. They do not have lungs, and instead breathe through small holes in the sides of their bodies. Approximately 27 days after hatching the silkworm begins spinning it’s cocoon, which ranges in colour from white to cream to yellow. The cocoon is made from one continuous thread of silk.

The silk thread is produced in the Silkworm’s salivary glands, and this silk thread hardens upon contact with the air. The cocoon is completed in about 3 days. The adult silk moth will emerge from it’s cocoon in approximately 2 weeks, and the cycle begins all over again

Silkworm Life Cycle

The Silkworm’s egg will hatch approximately at the end of winter, they will then eat continuously for 20-35 days.

The Silkworms will then spin a cocoon. After approximately 25 days the Moth will appear from the cocoon and will excrete a brownish fluid once emerging – don’t worry, this is completely normal, and is the Silk Moth simply cleaning out its system.

It is quite easy to separate the male and female Silk Moths, with the females having the larger abdomen and the males possessing the smaller abdomen.

The moths will then mate, lay between 300-500 eggs and die.

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