Jana worked in animal welfare with abused and unwanted pets. She loves sharing her hands-on experience regarding domestic and wild critters.
Silkworms as Pets
This article covers the following topics in its discussion of silkworms as potential pets for children and adults.
- Is the silkworm a good pet for you or your child?
- Where to get silkworms
- The life cycle of the silkworm
- Silkworm care
- Dealing with dangers to your pet
Domesticated Silkworms and Children
During ancient times, the East became renowned for its silk and the skillful farming of the creatures that produced the commodity—silkworms. Today, thanks to millennia of human handling, even kids can take care of them. However, since they aren't very amusing or interactive, kids can get bored with them after a while. The different life phases can renew interest, but parents should be aware that supervision is required and that they may have to step in with care taking duties should the child no longer adequately care for the silkworms.
Where to Get Silkworms
This is not the type of pet one normally finds at pet stores. The majority are ordered from online stores. Silkworms are sold mostly as eggs or young caterpillars. Be sure to order your specimens from a reputable web dealer with plenty of reviews.
The Silkworm's Life Cycle
The life phases of this creature are pretty simple.
- They start out as tiny, dark eggs.
- When they hatch, the newborns are black and very small.
- Eventually, they grow into recognizable silkworms.
- They remain in this state and feed voraciously until they spin themselves away inside a cocoon.
- After some time, a moth emerges. Once in the moth stage, feeding no longer occurs.
- Moths mate, deposits eggs, and then die.
Caring for Silkworm Eggs and Newborns
Caring for Silkworm Eggs
- It can take up to two weeks for eggs to hatch and one must be ready to take care of the new babies when they arrive.
- If this is your first clutch, it's important to find out (from the seller) when they were laid.
- Keep eggs at a suitable room temperature and away from direct sunlight.
Caring for Newborns
- When you notice the arrival of newborns—they resemble tiny black ants—carefully remove them to a container that is escape-proof.
- Generally, silkworms are happy to stay inside any container, even a shoe box, as long as they have fresh food. Hungry silkworms tend to wander.
- Make sure that you have plenty of mulberry leaves available for the duration of keeping these creatures—they eat a lot.
- For the newborns, put down a carpet of small leaves, cut up or grated.
- Check on them regularly; some don't immediately grasp the feeding thing and might wander off into a corner and starve.
- Make sure the leaves are fresh but dry; any amount of drops or water film can drown the minuscule worms at this stage.
- Change the leaves when they show signs of withering, but be careful not to accidentally throw out a tiny silkworm!
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Caring for Growing Silkworms
- As they grow, silkworms need to shed their skins about four times. The old skin should never be ripped off. Allow it to happen naturally unless there seem to be an infection or problem, then remove it gently.
- Silkworms are physically also very vulnerable and here's where adult supervision is a must. Kids like to handle them but unfortunately, silkworms bruise quickly and then often die. When picked up for whatever reason, it must be done with exceptional gentleness and ideally, moved while it's on a leaf and not handled directly.
- The mulberry leaves can be lightly sprayed for water intake. Don't make it too wet or do it too often. Silkworms get enough moisture from eating the mulberry leaves but a tentative spray on the leaves (not the worms) here and there won't hurt.
- Give fresh leaves every day.
- Watch out for dangers such as direct sunlight, cold temperatures, and ants. Silkworms are exceptionally hardy but can still fall prey to predators and bacterial infections; be sure to wash your hands before handling them.
The Cocoon and Moth Stage
When silkworms are about a month old, they wrap themselves in an oval ball of silk. This process takes a few days and can be fascinating for kids to watch.
Technically, silkworms are not worms, but caterpillars. This means that the “worms” are actually the larval stage of the real creatures—the moths. After three weeks, they emerge from their cocoons, looking fluffy and plump. The moths do not eat and they cannot fly. After hatching, they have about a week left to live and all they want to do is find a mate. If you want to continue keeping silkworms, just place the moths together in a box. Chances are that both males and females are present, and they'll soon romance. The females will deposit yellow eggs, which eventually turn dark and the entire cycle starts over.
Did You Know?
- This species of moth, Bombyx mori, is entirely dependent on humans for survival. The silkworm has been domesticated for so long, all wild populations are extinct
- Silkworms come in different colours. Apart from the pure whites, some also have stripes. These so-called “zebras” are white with bands that are either black or chocolate
- Mulberry leaves produce mostly yellow silk and to a lesser degree, also white. Some people have reported reddish cocoons after feeding their pets beetroot leaves.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2018 Jana Louise Smit
Jana Louise Smit (author) from South Africa on May 04, 2019:
Hi Maryka. Unfortunately, mulberry leaves are the healthiest option, especially when they are meant to provide a long life for pets. There are owners who feed them things like lettuce, spinach, and beetroot leaves but this shortens their lifespan. Sometimes, it makes them outright sick. If you can, stick to mulberry leaves.
The good news is that the leaves store well in the fridge (not freezer). When you find a tree, get a few bags, drench the leaves slightly with water and put the bags in the fridge. When feeding time comes, take out a few leaves and dry them before serving them to your son's pets. Good luck.
maryka on May 04, 2019:
is there anything else than mulberry leaves that i can give to the silkworm it is my first time having them for my son