A silkworm is the larvae of the silkworm moth. The silkworm moth is also called “Cecropia Moth” and it is the largest North American moth. The silkworm larvae’s favorite food is white mulberry and it has a very strong appetite. Silkworms are large in size and they have several other uses to humans outside of producing silk. Silkworms are also a delicacy in places such as Korea and China — which is the only way one of these creatures could ever end up inside the human body, and they are also used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat spasms, relieve gas, and rid the body of mucus or phlegm.
While silkworms can be found on silk farms all around the world and in some cases they can still be found hanging from the twigs of maple trees inside a pecan shaped and colored cocoon, you can also raise them right at home. Silkworm 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. Silkworm 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.
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Silkworm 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 silkworm 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, they will resemble furry black worms, but as they begin to mature (and molt), their color lightens to yellow or nearly white. They grow up to three inches in length and around a half inch in diameter.
Silkworms 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 silkworm’s pupal stage.
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, commercial silk is made by boiling the silkworm cocoons. This means that many of the silkworms (soon to be moths) are killed in their cocoons. Some of the moths are allowed to emerge so that these chosen few can continue the population of silkworms.
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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.