Arrival of the Silkworms
What look like small, black poppy seeds are actually the eggs of a silkmoth, Bombyx mori. These eggs will hatch out into slender, white caterpillars, commonly referred to as “silkworms,” that feed on mulberry leaves. In this case, our mulberry leaves are crushed into a dry powder, which we prepare by adding water and microwaving.
Because of over 5,000 years of domestication, Bombyx mori is no longer found in the wild. It has been transported from China by humans all over the world to where mulberry trees are found starting in the 6thcentury. In North America the red mulberry tree (Morus rubra) is native, and the first silkworms arrived on the East Coast from Europe in the 1700’s.
Why do we have them at the Fairbanks Museum? They're fascinating and bring a new dimension to our Butterfly House. You might recognize their value from any silk fabric. The silk comes from the cocoons of these silkmoths. All silkmoths produce a silken cocoon but what is special about this particular species is the continuous single strand it makes to form its cocoon. That single strand can be up to 3,000 feet long and is very strong fiber for its weight. To produce 1 pound of silk, you would need between 2,000 and 3,000 cocoons. That one pound would consist of about a 1,000 miles of silk filament!
In 6 to 12 days, we should see our first caterpillar begin to hatch out from these eggs.