Bombyx Mori - The Silk Worm

Bombyx Mori - The Silk Worm
Finding their way about a Mulberry Tree

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A little spinning, a little silk and BOOM! Winged Creatures emerge ready for the next event!

There is a flurry of excitement and a fluttering of wings because cocoons all over are opening!  To help out some of my students who have questions and want to know what's next I am posting some photos of what is going on!   The silkworms spun their cocoons.  After I was sure that all the spinning was completely done I removed all the cradle silk and laid them out quietly to wait for the inside larvae to transform into silk moths.

 Earlier this week my first moths came out and then a few more...
The brown spots were phermones the males squirted out.  The central large Moth is a female and the other four are males.  The dark brown body is a pupa removed from a cocoon for examination.  It will hatch out of its brown skin eventually.
Here is a beautiful female emerging from her cocoon.   Note the droplet of fluid on the face of the moth.  It serves as a magnifier if you look carefully.  The moth is damp and her wings will need to dry and straighten out after she completely emerges.  Enjoy this series of photos!  I LOVED taking these pictures!!!  ((Be sure and  click on the photo to see it full screen size! It will make your eyes pop! ))

If you click on the image to see it larger you will be better able to see the drop of liquid it is exuding.  The same liquid it put out to help dissolve it's cocoon exit.

Getting those elbows moving

Side view - Note the wet wing slicked down as it emerges.

Making progress!
Side view again, less wet and more body out!  However, do not think that the moth is completely dry!  It is not.  Note that the hole it is coming out of is still wet and her wings will need to dry out flat later.

The female's body is larger than the male moth body.  It has a larger abdomen and she carries all the eggs she needs to get fertilized and lain.  Basically, she is heavier and the strength to emerge from her cocoon is appreciable.

So At this point she reminds me of a hulking cathedral gargoyle with wings.  I love this photo.
Here she is fresh from her cocoon.  Notice how long and round her abdomen is.  Her wings are damp and still need to dry.  Note how curved they still are and the dampness makes them slightly yello.

A little while later still drying her wings in her box.  She is a lovely healthy female silkmoth.
 It happened that Monday was my first day of fall Workshops - teaching at the local Homeschool Co-op.  I was almost late because as I was going out the door... TWO silkmoths were attempting to exit their respective cocoons.  Could we have been any luckier?!  I hustled to get them and their boxes into the car hoping they would not fully eclose before I got to the co-op!

Here are the emerging silkmoths who went to Fiber Arts class at the Co-op (and grabbed the attention of my Studio Arts students as well as the kids on the playground).

This is the first of the two cocoons I noticed with an active moth attempting to emerge.  He looks good here, but later he got stuck and when I removed him he was also malformed as the one below.
As promised to my co-op students here is one of the moths we helped out of his cocoon
Although, this moth was not able to break free of its silk cocoon, we decided to cut open the silk and let it out.  Here it emerges after the silk cocoon is pulled away.

Clearly, this moth was not meant to survive.  It is poorly formed and so its genetics would not benefit the breed.  When we help it to emerge and counter-act what nature sets up as safeguards  we need to understand  what Nature intended and why and we need to think about the ethics of such interference in the natural order.  It is not right or wrong.  It is merely a thought process we need to have when we take part in making such determinations.  ((You never knew such philosophical ideas were part of silk textiles!))

I will try to get the next post and photos up quickly.  These are the photos of the mating process and egg laying!   Have fun and enjoy!  Please feel free to leave a comment or question if you have one!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Back to School and into your Cocoon!

An up and coming silkworm spinning the support silk for his cocoon
    The end of August and the beginning of September and the teenagers at my house are back to school, college, and into their cocoons.  The teenage silkworms are spinning their cocoons and I am delighted!  It signals the end of feeding their truly bottomless gullets three times or so a day.  After having raised them for years I find that I am happiest when raising a small brood of say 40 or less.  Of course one has to start with a small number of eggs and sometimes I get excited and forget, but not this time. 

And like an astronaut it does not matter which way seems to be up.  The cocoon hammock must support the cocoon completely.
    It is really amazing to watch the creation of the cocoon.  first there is an intricate and strong hammock or cradle that is spun before the actual hard core cocoon.  This serves to secure the cocoon in place so that it does not roll away, get plucked up (unless you work really hard), or blown away by winds less strong than our recent Irene.   

Inside his hammock of silk the spinning of the cocoon begins.  

    After the cocoon hammock/support structure is spun, the silkworm will proceed and create the safe and dry womb of its upcoming metamorphosis, the cocoon.

    Looking carefully the shape of the cocoon appears.  The silkworm will spin from the outside in.

Often I wonder if Chinese acrobats took their inspiration from the silkworm
    They keep spinning away; round and round and round.  If they spun their silk in a straight line a single amazingly fine filament would be 4 football fields long. 
    When they are done the silkworms will have spun a solid cocoon where inside they will begin their transformation into a silk moth.   

    This is not a chronological telling.  Since it is a cycle and therefore a life circle coming in at any stage is not necessarily a bad thing.  I will most likely tell a story next and for that purpose we must start with a cocoon. Until next time... if you are a silkworm... eat your mulberry leaves!  If you are human... eat your veggies! :)

Mama Silkworm

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Silkworms in the Trees!

I've been having a lot of fun recently playing with my current batch of silkworms.  As they have been getting bigger I've had a few photo shoots.  Silkworms do not make good models when hungry since they poke their heads up and wave from side to side like little monks praying and swaying back and forth.  So of course we have the obligatory silkworms and coins photos for size (which I will show you at a later time) and also silkworms in the hand.

   So here we have a lovely silkworm on my thumb.  (Click to make photo larger)

          Recently however I have had the best time photographing them in my mulberry trees.

 They eventually climbed around a bit, but found it hard to just sit and chew on a leaf.  I think the selection was too overwhelming.

More than 5,000 years ago our friends the Bombyx Mori lived and crawled around in mulberry trees, ate their leaves, and spun their cocoons.  I am here to tell you that 5,000 years of domesticated living has spoiled these critters and they have a hard time climbing a leaf and holding on.  The idea of crawling vertically has apparently slipped their collective little minds.  Truly if they don't use the skill for 5 millenia is it any wonder that they aren't good at it.  Nope, I could not leave them on the Mulberry tree!   In fact two of the four I took outside today fell off more than once so I simply brought them all  inside after their field trip was done.  I didn't want the unthinkable to happen... they might get eaten by a bird!  Once inside they retired to their horizontal house where they are served sliced mulberry leaves upon demand. 

     The silkworms that we in general buy for classrooms or home rearing are Bombyx Mori, the white silkworm you see here that upon emerging from its cocoon will be a white silk moth.  There are however many other wild silk moths in the world.  The Bombyx Mandarina is the wild ancestor of the Bombyx Mori that is domestically raised around the world.  The website I have linked to is readable via Google Translator.  The original language is Spanish. Emilio Monadero (living in Spain) is an incredible man who has worked tirelessly to create a gene bank for this moth family,  Bombycinae.  He is working to research and preserve different varieties of the Bombycinae family.    The Bombyx Mandarina is still breeding and flying wild in a number of places.  If you look at the website you can see the differences between it and what you will see here.  I might like to raise them, but I can't since you have to be licensed to sell eggs over state lines and I don't think that we are going to be allowed to import a wild silk moth into the country.  We will have to make due with his website. ;)

     There are a fair number of other wild silk moths and I will talk about them as time goes on.

As time goes on I will put up more links, do book reviews, discuss different Silk Moth Varieties, and give some links as to where to buy fun things.  Stay tuned....

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Silk is out there -- Let me Help!

What I am here for is for YOU! I am a multitude of creative endeavors: a Fiber Artist, Fiber Educator, and a real live Teacher for kids (I'm also a Mom, a wife, and I enjoy Historical Re-Creation. I teach many things in and out of various worlds, but I have an enormous love for SILK! Ask me what you will --- fiber processing - life cycle -- creative uses for various things -- and how silkworms poop! It is all important!
Although, information on Silk is much more available than it was 20 yrs ago (demand and interest has produced more study and gathering of information) it can still be daunting to gather information, learn it, and pass it on or there may be a spot that eludes a person on technique or technicality.  I've been doing this a long time and I'd like to share what I can.
I will post on average once every two weeks on general Silky subjects, but if you have an interest or a question about Silk, silkworms, their history, how to play with their fiber... LET ME KNOW!!!  I will be happy to help with lesson plans for a wide variety of ages.  This is free of charge --- let's spread the silky joy!
I do travel to teach!  Contact me at
I also do Fiber Workshops (I will be teaching at Convergence in July 2012 and I teach in and around my local area of Southern CA).  I also am a Historical re-enactor so if you need a demo --- let me know!!! (I am knowledgeable and costumed in several time periods).
I am at heart an educator who has been teaching for some 20 years.  I work with a variety of ages in different educational settings (traditional and homeschool settings).  Centered in the Southern CA area I work in a variety of different locations.