Much like earthworms, which play a significant role in the in the fertilization of soil and crops, a silk worm is significant to humans because it produces one of the world’s most precious commodities—silk. Because the silk worm is so precious, it is no longer found in nature. In fact, the silk worm is totally dependent on humans for reproduction.
A silk worm is the larva of the silk moth. Its favorite food is white mulberry and it has a very strong appetite. The silk worm is large in size and it has several other uses outside of producing silk. The silk worm is also a source of sustenance in some countries. It is a delicacy in places such as Korea and China. This means—consumption is the only way the silk worm could end up inside the human body. The silk worm is also used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat spasms, to relieve gas, and to rid the body of mucus or phlegm.
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While silk worms can be found on silk farms all around the world, you can also raise them on your own right at home. Silk worm eggs may be purchased from a number of online stores or directly from farms or growers. They typically arrive in a box and they should be transferred to an open container immediately. A wooden bowl will do just fine. Silk worm eggs may be kept in warm temperatures ranging from roughly 80-85 degrees and they should be kept out of direct sunlight. The air should be moist and the area where the eggs are kept should be well ventilated.
Silk worm eggs typically hatch within two weeks of arrival to your home and they will begin to eat immediately, so it’s best to have plenty of white mulberry on hand for them. How much the silk worm eats will determine the quality of and just how much silk it will produce, so keep them well fed and happy. When the eggs hatch, the larva will resemble a furry black worm, but as it begins to mature and molt, the color lightens to yellow or nearly white. They grow up to three inches in length and around a half inch in diameter.
Silk worms enclose themselves in a cocoon made of raw silk after they have molted at least four times. This silk cocoon is made of one single thread of raw silk that can be anywhere from 1,000 to more than 3,000 feet in length. The silk is produced in the salivary glands of the silkworm and it is used for protection during the silk worms pupal stage.
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Today, it is estimated that roughly 75 million pounds of raw silk are produced each year. It takes more than 3,000 cocoons to make one pound of silk and more than 10 billion pounds of mulberry leaves to feed the silkworms that produce the planets precious silk. Unfortunately, boiling the silk worm cocoons is how commercial silk is produced. This means that many of the silk worms are killed in their cocoons before they can become moths. Some of the moths are allowed to emerge so that these chosen few can continue the population of silk worms.
Fortunately, cruelty-free silk does exist. It’s called “peace silk.” Peace silk, also referred to as “vegetarian silk” uses the process of degumming and spinning the raw silk to produce a soft, fluffy fabric that is excellent for warmth and therapy. This degumming and spinning process allows the moth to safely emerge from the cocoon and live out the remainder of its life cycle — in peace.